3JOLLIBEE - Jollibee’s Mexican food business eyes NYC

Tortazo, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant, officially opens its first location at Catalog in Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower. The opening ceremony is led by (from left to right) Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC) President and CEO Ernesto Tanmantiong, Chef Rick Bayless, as well as JFC Founder and Chairman Tony Tan Caktiong. (Photo by Chino S. Leyco)




CHICAGO, Illinois — The Mexican fast-casual restaurant business of Filipino-owned Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC) in the United States plans to enter the New York City market next year and in Jollibee’s home country, the Philippines.

JFC’s partner and award-winning Chef Rick Bayless, 66, disclosed that they plan a “moderately rapid” expansion of their fast-casual Mexican restaurant called “Tortazo” in the US following the opening of its first branch earlier this month.

Tortazo, a torta-focused, fast-casual restaurant, is a joint project between JFC and Chicago-based celebrity chef Bayless, which officially opened last Friday (Manila time) in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).

“This is our first one, but we will do more here in Chicago then our next stop is to go to New York next year,” Bayless told reporters after the opening ceremony attended by JFC founder Tony Tan Caktiong and President Ernesto Tanmantiong.

To recall, JFC acquired a 47 percent stake in Bayless’ Tortas Frontera business for $12.4 million in September 2018, marking the Asian food conglomerate’s debut into the Mexican restaurant space in the US.

Asked about the group’s long-term plan for Tortazo, the American chef and restaurateur who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, said there is no master growth plan in place to expand the new restaurant in the US at a rapid pace.

“I don’t like to do things that don’t have a lot of thought behind them, and our friends in Jollibee are the same way. They want to see it go incrementally… I want to make sure it’s really good,” Bayless said.

But what is certain, Bayless said, is that they would open several more Tortazo locations outside of Chicago beginning in 2021.

“We will be opening in New York next year,” Bayless said:“Because it [Tortazo] is a very urban concept and New York is the most urban city in the United States. We know we can do a dozen of it in New York just in Manhattan. It’s is the right type of clientele for us.”

“It’s not a very suburban type of concept, it’s very full of flavor, it’s for a fairly sophisticated crowd that like to be adventurous with their food. So we want to go where those people are and that’s going to be in urban setting,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bayless is not ruling out the possibility of bringing Tortazo to the Philippines.

“With these guys [Jollibee] probably next week,” Tortazo quipped when asked on the timeline for Tortazo’s foray in Philippines. “They got the infrastructure because they are in so many countries, they know how to do that. They could help us get that setup in a flash.”

“There’s not much Mexican food at all [in the Philippines]. It would be really nice to be able to do that just for fun. It gives me a reason to go back to the Philippines,” he concluded.

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