Featuring Beth Dela Cruz, President
Jollibee Foods Corporation North America
By Rebecca Patt, SVP Development, Wray Executive Search
Beth Dela Cruz started with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) as a shift manager in a restaurant in the Philippines and today is the president of JFC Philippine Brands North America. Manila-based JFC is one of the fastest growing restaurant companies in the world, and Beth is at the helm of bringing their signature brands to North America, celebrating several recent grand openings with huge fanfare.
In the last two weeks of December 2019 alone, she helped open three new Jollibee restaurants in Canada where excited customers have camped out for hours in the cold to be first in line, bringing the total of Jollibee restaurants in North America to around 50 and growing. The company also celebrated the opening of a new headquarters office in West Covina, CA, in November 2019, home to over 100 employees.
Here, Beth gives us a primer on the company and reveals the meaning of “Chickenjoy.” Is Chickenjoy a feeling, a menu item, or both? Why would people line up in a parking lot overnight during a subfreezing blizzard for Chickenjoy? Read on to find out!
How did Jollibee get started?
Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) started out as two small ice cream parlors in the Philippines about 45 years ago. Our Founder and Chairman, Mr. Tony Caktiong, fresh out of college and newly married, decided to open these ice cream parlors to support his new family. From these humble beginnings, JFC is now operating 5800 stores across 35 countries.
JFC is recognized as one of the largest and fastest growing restaurant companies in Asia, expanding throughout Asia, North America, Europe, and the Middle East. JFC has 15 different brands under its umbrella, including three homegrown Philippines brands: the flagship brand Jollibee, specializing in fried chicken, burgers, and spaghetti; Red Ribbon Bakeshop; and Chow King, a QSR Chinese food concept. JFC is also a key franchisee in Asia for several internationally franchised concepts including Burger King, Panda Express, Dunkin, and Hard Rock Café.
What are the development plans in North America?
Jollibee is the flagship brand of JFC. In North America, we intend to grow Jollibee to 250 units by 2023: 150 in the US and 100 in Canada.
RP’s Note: Besides development of the signature brands, JFC’s North American growth is also noteworthy with its acquisition of LA-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for $350m in July 2019. JFC is also in partnership with Rick Bayless for Tortazo, a new premium fast-casual Mexican concept opening in Chicago in January 2020.
What is Chickenjoy?
Jollibee is best known as “The Home of the Famous Chickenjoy.” Chickenjoy is our famous fried chicken, which is delicately hand-breaded to be crispy on the outside, with a secret marinade that makes it juicy on the inside.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get involved in the company and become the President of Jollibee Food North America?
I started my career in Jollibee as a shift manager in the restaurant and have worked myself up the operations ladder: assistant restaurant manager to restaurant manager to area manager to district manager to operations manager.
My strong background in operations has given me a broad perspective of how the business runs. In 2005, I was tapped to go to the United States with the daunting task of helping tun-around our failing business there. I was given two years to see if the business can be saved or call it quits, fold the business and divert the investment back to the Philippines.
It was a hard process considering that at the height of our turnaround efforts, I was diagnosed with cancer. We were able to get through all those hardships with a strong will to make things work and with a team that had a commendable level of passion and commitment. We fondly look back to those turnaround years and feel pride and joy that Jollibee is now enjoying an unprecedented growth in North America.
In 2010, I was tasked to oversee our Red Ribbon Bakeshop business in the US and in 2013, Chowking was folded into my area of responsibility. I was promoted to President of the Philippine Brands North America for Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chowking in 2019.
What has been the reception to Jollibee’s new store openings so far in the US and Canadian markets?
The reception to Jollibee’s store openings across US and Canada has been phenomenal. We feel the anticipation and experience the queues that welcome every store opening, often finding ourselves in the local headlines and on social media.
Overnight campouts welcomed many of our US and Canada openings, campouts as early as two days before opening in Alberta and three days for Edmonton and Arizona. Given the massive and enthusiastic response to the entry of Jollibee in a new market, we really make sure that we do detailed preparations to accommodate the long line of customers.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve experienced so far at a new store opening?
Our very first store in Canada was in Winnipeg. We opened this store on December 15, 2016, with temperature at -30C. It was really freezing, but despite the biting cold, people still lined up. On December 26 of that same year, there was blizzard which made roads impassable. I remember we had to walk through thigh-high snow. I’m only 5’ tall so knee-high snow is thigh-high for me. We walked from the hotel to the store, approximately three blocks, and when we got to the restaurant, there were already customers waiting outside!
There are really many stories to tell in each of our store openings, funny, heartwarming stories. While majority of those who flock to our store openings are those who are already familiar with Jollibee, we also get a lot of curious customers who have heard about the brand and would like to experience our food and our warm and hospitable service. In fact, our first customers in line in Calgary, Regina and Vaughan were non-Filipinos.
How are the sales results so far in North America? Meeting your expectations?
We are fortunate to enjoy unprecedented growth. With the support of our business partners and key stakeholders, we are now growing five times faster than industry standards, with consistent double-digit growth in terms of same-store sales and profit.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I love to travel and visit new places. My husband and I make sure we travel every year. In 2019, we traveled to Iceland, and this year, we plan to travel to Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Rebecca Patt specializes in retained executive search for the restaurant industry with Wray Executive Search. Need to hire an ace executive for your team? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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