July 24: Event to reunite Arby’s employees on 50th anniversary of chain

Leroy and Forrest Raffel in front of an original Arby's sign in the 1960s. Electronic image courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Leroy and Forrest Raffel in front of an original Arby’s sign in the 1960s. Electronic image courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

The Mahoning Valley Historical Society is hosting a reunion of Arby’s corporate employees (from 1964-1979) and franchisees on Thursday, July 24 at the Tyler History Center to celebrate the restaurant chain’s fiftieth anniversary. Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. is sponsoring this special gathering as part of the anniversary celebration.

The reunion will culminate with a public panel discussion moderated by MVHS Executive Director Bill Lawson with businessman and founder of the Arby’s chain Leroy Raffel, as well as historian Dr. Thomas Welsh, who authored “Classic Restaurants of Youngstown,” and Dr. Donna DeBlasio, professor of history and director of the Center for Applied History at Youngstown State University.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public. It occurs at 7 p.m. in the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, 325 West Federal St., in downtown Youngstown.

Panelists will discuss the history of the Arby’s restaurant and its rise in the national fast food industry, how food culture evolved in the Youngstown area through suburbanization, and the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Mahoning Valley.

Youngstown’s identity has been defined by its ethnic food traditions, and by extension its restaurant culture. 

Forrest and LeRoy Raffel grew up in New Castle, Pa.  After college, the brothers purchased a restaurant equipment company based in Youngstown.  Raffel Brothers, Inc. grew into a leading food service consulting company. 

In the early 1960s, the Raffels decided that their future was with starting their own fast-food chain. Their menu focused on fresh cut roast beef sandwiches served with barbeque or horseradish sauce.  The sandwiches cost 69 cents—more than three times as much as a McDonald’s hamburger, but Forrest and LeRoy were confident that the quality of their sandwiches would attract customers.

The business succeeded and in 1976 the Raffels sold the Arby’s chain to Royal Crown Cola.  Two years later, there were 800 Arby’s restaurants throughout the United States generating sales over $350 million. Today Arby’s has more than 3,600 stores located in the United States, Canada, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

This public program is supported by The Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  For more information, contact the Historical Society at 330-743-2589 or visit www.mahoninghistory.org.

In addition, the planning committee is looking for contact information of former Arby’s corporate employees from 1964-1979.  Contact Rita Wilson at ritaw7500@aol.com, Stephanie Sferra at the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau at Stephanie@exploretrumbullcounty.com, or Cheryl Lewis at the Tyler History Center at clewis@mahoninghistory.org.

© 2014 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.




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