Leroy Raffel, co-founder of Arby’s restaurant chain, dead at 96

Leroy Raffel, who co-founded the Arby’s restaurant chain with his older brother in 1964, died on Tuesday. He was 96.

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Raffel and his brother, Forrest Raffel, opened their first restaurant in Boardman, Ohio, WKBN-TV reported. The original restaurant had 10 seats and competed against hamburger chains like McDonald’s and Burger King by offering roast beef sandwiches, according to the television station.

The “RB” in the chain’s name actually stands for the restaurant’s co-founders, The Vindicator of Youngstown reported.

The restaurant’s social media page paid tribute to Leroy Raffel on Thursday, calling him “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.

The Raffels gambled that people would pay 69 cents for a roast-beef sandwich, The Wall Street Journal reported. The idea caught on but hit financial woes during the 1970s and was reorganized under bankruptcy law, according to the newspaper.

“On the day we opened, the McDonald’s hamburger was 15 cents and our sandwich was 69 cents,” Leroy Raffel told WFMJ-TV in a 2014 interview. “So you had to be a little more affluent to buy our sandwich.”

Royal Crown Cola Co. bought a controlling stake in Arby’s for $18 million in 1976, according to The Wall Street Journal. The chain is now owned by Inspire Brands.

Leroy Raffel remained the company’s CEO until his retirement in 1979, The Vindicator reported.

“The team and I send our heartfelt condolences to Leroy’s friends, loved ones, and family, including his four children Janet, Jim, Nancy, and Ken,” Arby’s President Jim Taylor said in a statement.

The brothers were from New Castle, Pennsylvania, where their father owned a hotel that contained a restaurant and bar, WKBN reported.

Leroy Raffel was born March 13, 1927, in Zanesville, Ohio, The Vindicator reported. He grew up in New Castle and studied accounting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“I became an expert in poker, craps and getting by without too much study,” Raffel said later, according to the newspaper.

The Raffel brothers decided to sell roast beef after visiting Kelly’s Roast Beef in Revere, Massachusetts, where customers were lining up for the sandwiches, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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