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The Legacy of Leroy Raffel: Riverside Alumnus and Arby’s Cofounder

Riverside mourns the loss of Leroy Brown Raffel, class of '44, who passed away on March 21, 2023. One of the Academy’s most notable alumni, Raffel had a distinguished career and is well-known for his contributions to the fast-food industry as co-founder of Arby’s Restaurants.

Born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1927 to Ann and Jacob Raffel, he grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He later lived in Youngstown, Ohio until 1978, when he retired to Miami. Raffel was happily married to Shirley (Shankey) Balbot Raffel for 73 years.

In the years before his entrepreneurial endeavors, Raffel came to Riverside as a cadet at the age of 14. He spent three years at Riverside and graduated in 1944. His father knew of Riverside through a distant relative who had also attended the Academy.

“I entered Riverside as a child and left as a mature young man,” stated Raffel. “I learned to take and then give orders – leadership skills that would be hard to come by in any other environment. I learned to accept responsibility for the cadets under my command and to see that they achieved the best they could while at Riverside. These experiences served me well all the rest of my life.”

Following graduation from Riverside, Raffel attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from the Wharton School of Business in 1949. He served one year in the U.S. Navy at the end of WWII.

Raffel and his brother, Forrest, decided in 1964 to enter the fast-food industry. The enterprising brothers knew they needed a different product and decided on roast beef – a 69-cent slow-cooked roast beef sandwich, to be exact.

The Raffels opened their first restaurant on July 23, 1964, and named the store Arby’s after their initials R-B, which stood for “Raffel Brothers”. The tiny restaurant had ten seats.

The first restaurant was a hit, and by the end of 1965, the brothers had added five more Arby’s. By 1970, through the introduction of franchising, the brothers had grown the chain to a whopping 300 Arby’s restaurants in 37 states.

Despite setbacks in 1970 after bankruptcy following a public stock offering, the Raffel brothers hung on to the company and restored it to profitability.

Rather than risk another stock offering, the brothers sought out Royal Crown Cola to merge. The Raffel brothers continued to direct the company, but when Royal Crown Cola moved to Atlanta in 1979, the brothers chose to retire. There were 800 stores in 1979, and there are more than 3,500 across the world now.

With more than 100 years of experience educating and developing young men for success in college and beyond, Riverside is proud to have many notable alumni like Mr. Raffel who walked our halls and marched our parade fields as part of the Corps of Cadets when enrolled. These men apply the valuable lessons learned at Riverside through mentorship, brotherhood, and academic achievements to their professional careers and receive national recognition, community, or world recognition for their contributions and impact.