Remember when the first Arby’s opened on Route 224 in Boardman? We used to drive over from the West Side to get a bag full of Arby’s on Sunday evenings. At first there weren’t many options other than a regular roast beef sandwich. This was still fast food, but definitely a cut above the hamburger places that were spreading all over the country. And in a blue collar town like Youngstown, it was red meat on a robust bun. A couple would make a good meal for under $2 in the early days.
That Arby’s was literally the first. Arby’s as a fast food chain started in Youngstown in 1964. The name comes from Raffel Brothers (Forrest and Leroy), hence R.B, or Arby’s. It also is the abbreviation of Roast Beef (clever, huh?). The chain spread rapidly, beginning to spread to other states in 1970, by which time they were growing at a rate of 50 stores a year. The menu expanded as well with Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches, Curly Fries, and Jamocha shakes, among other things. Eventually they opened up a franchise in Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State, replacing Hardees, which was there when we were students and an entirely forgettable chain as far as we were concerned.
In 1976, the corporation was sold for the first of several times, first to Royal Crown Cola, then DWG Corporation owned by Victor Posner, and eventually the parent company of Wendy’s (which began in Columbus, Ohio–we live a stone’s throw from their headquarters). Currently Roark Capital Group has the controlling interest with Wendy’s continuing to have a minority share.
Arby’s seems to be doing well these days, with James Earl Jones doing voice-overs on their commercials. [Note: Several readers pointed out and I confirmed that it is in fact Golden Globe award winning actor Ving Rhames. Thanks for the correction!] We still like to stop by to get a sandwich occasionally, and even though they now have fancier deli style sandwiches, I almost always just get a roast beef sandwich. I always reflect on what that sandwich and I have in common–we were both born in Youngstown!