This past spring, a certain fast-food franchise called Jollibee opened up about five blocks from my apartment in Woodside. In spite of its seemingly misfit status amidst mom-and-pop convenience stores and privately owned bakeries, this restaurant became instantly and wildly popular: for its first month, the line extended out the door and wrapped around the block almost daily. Family members took turns snapping each other's pictures with a giant bee statue that stood in front of the store as though it were a Disneyland mascot. And all this for a place that looked like nothing more than a KFC knockoff.
As it turns out, Jollibee is the McDonalds of the Philippines. Visually, Jollibee looks like a combination of Chuck-E-Cheese, McDonalds, and KFC. There are pictures of plump, olive-skinned children eating fried chicken legs on the walls inside, and the whole place is decorated in a red-white-and-yellow theme. Its menu is an odd conglomeration of fried chicken, French fries, hamburgers, spaghetti, and soft drinks. So, like America’s beloved McDonalds, the appeal of the franchise is not the its aesthetic or its menu. Branding has somehow trumped all else. Because with all of the other delicious, authentic, ethnic restaurants around—Indian, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Irish, you name it!—all of these people were still spending their money on assembly-line fried chicken and overdone spaghetti.
However, the mystery has been solved. People are not as crazy—or stupid (because wanting to have your picture taken with a shiny oversized bee statue in front of a fast food restaurant just strikes me as stupid) —as they seem, and while I personally will never step foot in that place, I can at least now look upon those who do with less contempt. After all, if I went to live in Ghana or some other remote, foreign place and happened upon a Pinkberry store there, I would without-a-doubt drag my friends to it. Why? Because it’s Pinkberry! So what if it has horribly cheesy, overly modern-bordering-on-anime Japanese aesthetics and if the yogurt is overpriced? This is popular in America and I like it and my Ghanaian friends are going to like it too, darn it. And I might even take my picture with those nifty pig-shaped salt and pepper shakers—the neon orange ones.