Arby's Mourns The Loss Of Co-Founder Leroy Raffel, Age 96

We lost another titan of the fast food industry this Thursday. On March 23rd, 2023, Leroy Raffel, the co-founder of the original Arby's, passed away peacefully in his home in Youngstown, Ohio at the age of 96. Though Raffel had a long and illustrious career, his enduring legacy will be tied to the red hat and roast beef empire that is Arby's. The restaurant industry was something of a family business, as Raffel's father owned a hotel and restaurant in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Leroy and his brother Forrest Raffel bought a restaurant equipment supply company from their uncle shortly before launching the restaurant.

Founded in 1964, the first humble Arby's location was in Boardman, Ohio, and had only 10 seats and about twice as many parking spots. The restaurant was based upon exploiting a unique hole in the fast food market: Arby's was offering roast beef sandwiches in place of the ubiquitous hamburger. The sandwiches were a bit of a tough sell at 69 cents, as customers had gotten used to the then-average price of 15 cents for a hamburger. What wasn't a hard sell was the high quality associated with both the food and service. 

The life and legacy of a fast food genius

Unfortunately, the Raffel brothers hit a rough patch in 1970, and filed for bankruptcy. When others might've pulled up stakes and sold off the franchise, the Raffel brothers dug in. They completely revamped the menu, incorporating what would become iconic additions, like Arby's Sauce, Horsey (or horseradish) Sauce, and the Beef 'N Cheddar. Alas, the chain's beloved curly fries wouldn't show up until the 80s.

Over the following years, the chain would grow wildly, expanding to over 400 locations, before ultimately being sold for $18 million to Royal Crown Cola. Even then, Raffel would stay on as CEO for another three years, continuing to grow the chain the way they intended. Because of his dogged tenacity, both Leroy and his brother had the ability to retire with dignity — and as multi-millionaires. 

Though the company has gone through numerous changes since Raffel left (growing to roughly 3,400 restaurants as of this year) the company still owes a large debt and deep gratitude to the brilliant mind behind its original formula. As the company noted in a recent post honoring the late, great Raffel, the Arby's name has always contained a quiet tribute to their founders, with the "RB" standing for "Raffel Brothers." Likely not a coincidence, the name also serves as a clever acronym for the high-quality roast beef sandwiches that set the company apart.