FAST FOOD giant Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC) is partnering with celebrity chef Rick Bayless to expand the latter’s Mexican casual restaurant chain in the United States.
In a regulatory filing on Friday, JFC said its subsidiary Jollibee Foods Corp. (USA) is investing $12.4 million in Tortas Frontera LLC, which was founded by Mr. Bayless, for 47% fully-diluted membership interest. The remaining 53% stake in Tortas Frontera will be held by Mr. Bayless and other shareholders.
There are currently four Tortas Frontera branches — three at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and one at The Arc in the University of Pennsylvania. The restaurants serve griddle-baked Mexican sandwiches called tortas and margaritas, and typically feature a guacamole bar.
“Together with (Mr. Bayless’) organization and brand Tortas Frontera, we will build a significant business in the large and fast-growing Mexican food category in the United States. This venture is very much in line with JFC’s mission: to serve great tasting food and spread the joy of eating to everyone,” JFC Chairman Tony Tan Caktiong said in a statement.
JFC noted Mexican food is a fast-growing segment in the US restaurant industry, with sales estimated at $40-45 billion last year.
Mr. Bayless is an award-winning restaurateur, book author, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters in 2009, and host of the television series Mexico — One Plate at a Time.
He has received numerous James Beard Awards — the most prestigious recognition in culinary art in the US — including National Chef of the Year in 1995) and Humanitarian of the Year in 1998.
Mr. Bayless’ Frontera Grill received the James Beard Foundation’s highest award, Outstanding Restaurant, in 2007. His 4-star Toplobampo also received the Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Restaurant in 2017.
JFC has been aggressively expanding overseas. Earlier this year, it took control of Denver-based burger chain Smashburger, which operates 352 stores in the United States, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, the United Kingdom, and Panama.
For the first half, JFC reported its net income attributable to equity holders of the parent company rose 16% to P4 billion, amid strong sales from its fast food businesses in the Philippines and abroad.
As of end-June, the fast food giant had a total of 4,279 stores, 20% higher compared to the number of stores at the end of June 2017.
Aside from Jollibee, JFC’s brands include Chowking, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, Mang Inasal and Burger King in the Philippines. In China, JFC operates Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan and Dunkin’ Donuts. — J.C.Lim