Co-founder of Arby’s Leroy Raffel, 96, dies
Roast beef chain was born in Boardman
Customers today know Arby’s restaurant by its television commercials with the guy in the deep voice saying “We have the meats.”
Some may not know that the “RB” in Arby’s actually stands for co-founders, the Raffel Brothers. The restaurant’s social media page on Thursday announced the death of Leroy Raffel, 96, who with his brother Forrest launched the brand in 1964 at a small restaurant on U.S. Route 224 near the center of Boardman.
The company’s tribute called Leroy Raffel, formerly of New Castle, Pa., “a truly visionary leader.”
“We remain honored to carry on the legacy that Leroy and his brother Forrest created. May his memory be a blessing,” the company’s statement concluded.
Leroy B. Raffel died Tuesday in Miami.
He was born in Zanesville in 1927 and grew up in New Castle before moving to Youngstown. He moved to Miami in 1978 for his retirement.
Leroy grew up in the restaurant business, according to Andi Baroff, a friend of the family who lives in Liberty who shared some background about the businessman.
While in New Castle, he lived at Leslie Hotel, one of several small hotels and bars operated by his father. Leroy attended the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia and the Wharton School of Business. It was at Wharton that he said: “I became an expert in poker, craps, and getting by without too much study.”
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a discharge officer.
Leroy and his brother Forrest, also known as “Fuzzy,” later built a successful restaurant equipment company, Raffel Brothers, supplying restaurants, schools, turnpike restaurants and hospitals.
In the early 1960s, the Raffel boys decided to explore the growing fast-food industry. They visited Kelly’s Roast Beef in Revere Beach, Massachusetts, where customers were lined up for the sandwiches. They decided they might want to develop a chain of roast beef restaurants.
The brothers’ business plan focused on one sandwich: roast beef, sliced thin and piled on a sesame seed bun.
It sold for 69 cents, when a McDonald’s hamburger was 19 cents. Their vision was an upscale fast-food restaurant with better food and ambience, and the best hospitality. The first Arby’s in Boardman became an instant success.
When Leroy Raffel and family lived in the Valley, they owned a home on Fifth Avenue near Goldie Road.
“They were very nice, humble people,” Baroff said, saying she spent a lot of time as a child in the Raffel household. “I was very close with the youngest daughter, Nancy. They were a fun family who liked to do a lot.”
The Arby’s corporate office for years was located first at 17 Colonial Drive and then moved to a large facility at 4944 Belmont Ave. in Liberty, according to Stephanie Sferra, the former Trumbull County tourism director who first worked for five years at Arby’s corporate offices..
In 1969, the company faced some setbacks and went into Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy. However, the brothers successfully brought Arby’s back to profitability.
When asked how he was able to turn Arby’s around, Leroy replied it’s “because I’m one tough SOB.”
Sferra said, however, that the family atmosphere “that was maintained in the corporate office was because of Leroy.” She said all of those who worked at the Liberty site still keep in touch.
“It became the standard for all the jobs we had; we always compared it to the Arby’s experience,” Sferra said.
Sferra said she and another employee, Sylvia Bryant, helped form the company’s first public relations department.
In 1976, the Raffels sold the company to Royal Crown Cola Co. for $18 million and Leroy Raffel remained as CEO until his retirement in 1979 when the headquarters left Liberty for Atlanta.
In 1984, Victor Posner obtained Arby’s via a hostile takeover of its then-parent Royal Crown through his DWG Corporation. Arby’s today is owned by Inspire Brands Inc., an American holding company that also is the franchiser of Dunkin’, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic Drive-In, Jimmy John’s, Mister Donut and Baskin-Robbins restaurant chains. Arby’s has about 3,500 locations.
Married to Shirley (Shankey) Balbot Raffel for 73 years, Leroy is survived by four children, Ken Raffel (Claire Oppenheim), Janet Raffel (David Sandmel) and Jim Raffel (Rachael) of Portland, Maine, and Nancy Raffel Osherow (Mark) of Boca Raton, Florida, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Leroy, who lost his spouse in January, had said his greatest joy was spending time with family. He also was active in the Jewish community.
Jacob Solomon, CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said: “Leroy had a quiet confidence. … He was also the source of unending encouragement and wise counsel that combined his keen intellect and business acumen with his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Memorial contribution of can be made to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, https://jewishmiami.org/. Funeral arrangements for Leroy were handled by Levitt-Weinstein Blasberg-Rubin-Zilbert Memorial Chapel in Miami.
Leroy’s brother, Forrest Raffel, died in 2008 at the age of 86.