Jollibee to invest $12.4M in Rick Bayless fast casual Tortas Frontera

The largest foodservice operator in the Philippines, which recently acquired Smashburger, plans to grow the Tortas Frontera Mexican sandwich chain.
Photograph by Galdones Photography

Philippines-based foodservice company Jollibee Foods Corp. is continuing its drive into the U.S. restaurant space, announcing a planned $12.4 million investment in Chicago-based Tortas Frontera fast-casual concept Friday.

Upon closing the deal, Jollibee will control 47% of Tortas Frontera, with the majority of the Mexican sandwich concept still held by restaurateur and chef Rick Bayless.

Earlier this year, Jollibee became majority owner of fast-casual burger chain Smashburger after first purchasing a 40% stake in the company in 2015.

“We have great admiration for Chef Rick Bayless for being a top chef, for being a successful restaurateur and for his philanthropic endeavors,” Tony Tan Caktiong, Jollibee’s chairman, said in a statement. “Together with his organization and brand Tortas Frontera, we will build a significant business in the large and fast-growing Mexican food category in the United States.”

In June, Caktiong said he was looking to acquire a U.S.-based Mexican restaurant chain, according to a report in the Manila Standard newspaper.

Bayless did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Restaurant Business.

The celebrity chef runs several restaurants in Chicago and one at Disney Springs in Orlando, Fla. He currently operates four Tortas Frontera units: three at O’Hare International Airport and one at the University of Pennsylvania. The concept is focused on griddle-baked Mexican sandwiches, called tortas, filled with proteins such as beef short ribs and chipotle chicken. The units also feature a guacamole bar with a variety of toppings.

Jollibee currently operates 436 stores in North America, including Smashburger, Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chowking. It is the largest foodservice operator in the Philippines, operating 2,875 restaurant units there.

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