The Raffel Brothers

Forty-five years ago an historical mouth-watering event took place in Boardman, Ohio. It was the opening of the very first Arby’s restaurant near the intersection of Market Street and Route 224. The Raffel brothers had the vision to sell quarter-pound roast beef sandwiches in the same manner as McDonalds was selling hamburgers. But the brothers went one step further in the fast food business. The customers were able to watch the roast beef cooking in a glass-walled rotisserie. On July 23, 1964 the doors opened in Boardman at an Old West chuck-wagon style restaurant with 10 seats and were 69 cents would buy a roast beef sandwich, potato chips and a drink. How many can remember watching the roast cooking on a spit?

The Raffel brothers were Forrest and Leroy from New Castle, PA. Forrest, or “Fuzzy” as he was known, was the oldest and according to his younger bother was “the creative genius” behind this new concept of fast food. Originally, they wanted to use the name “Big Tex” with the logo of a cowboy hat, but were unsuccessful in negotiating with an Akron businessman who already was using the name. “Finally we came up with Arby’s, which stands for R.B.; the initials for Raffel Brothers. Most of our early customers thought the name stood for roast beef,” said Forrest, “We were able to keep the cowboy hat for our sign and logo.”

Co-founder Leroy on left and brother Forrest Raffel on right

In the 1950s the Raffel brothers bought an uncle’s restaurant-equipment business and parlayed it into a successful food-service consulting firm. Forrest had graduated from Cornell University School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration while Leroy earned a degree in finance for the University of Pennsylvania. The brothers went on to design and install school and hospital kitchens along with all the airport flight kitchens at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. They also provided food service facilities for the Ohio Turnpike and the Hospitality Inn Motel; a chain of Standard Oil of Ohio.

Fuzzy Raffel worked the counter at the Boardman Arby’s with his wife, Gloria, assisting with the cooking. “We worked 24/7 and it was very exciting building a business,” she said. The corporate headquarters were located in downtown Youngstown and later expanded to Belmont Avenue. “People were knocking on our doors to get a ($15,000) franchise, but we over expanded and ran into trouble in 1970 during the credit crunch. We had to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” said Leroy. At the age of 50 Fuzzy retired and moved to North Miami Beach. In 1976 the corporation was sold to Royal Crown and in 1979 the Arby’s headquarters were moved to Atlanta, Georgia.

On September 19, 2008 the Florida newspapers announced the death of Forrest B. Raffel, Co-founder of Arby’s. He died at the age of 86. His obituary stated that he was to roast beef what Colonel Harlan Sanders was to chicken. Forrest was survived by his wife, Gloria, who he married in 1964, a brother, three daughters and three stepchildren. Since the Raffel brothers have left the Mahoning Valley, Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc. has grown to be the second largest restaurant franchising system in the sandwich segment of the quick service restaurant industry. As of September 28, 2008, there were a total of 3,735 Arby's restaurants in the system, including 1,173 Company-owned and 2,562 franchised locations in 48 states and four foreign countries. The first ever Arby’s Restaurant is now the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Boardman.