Many folks are familiar with the Royal Castle based out of Miami, Florida, but did not know there was a separate Royal Castle company operating out of Ohio.
The company is remembered fondly by the people of Miami and Cleveland, where they had their base operations.
I’ve compiled below what should bring back some good and, in a few cases, the ugly history of Miami’s first burger chain.
There is so much to cover, and I tried to touch on all the essential topics.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll write a full-length history of the Royal Castle System in book form.
In the meantime, please leave your memories in the comments area.
JUMP TO A SECTION
- Royal Castle Miami Company History
- Ugly Part of its History
- Screen Ready
- Royal Castle Ohio Company History
- Repurposed Buildings
- Newspaper Ads
- Royal Spatula
- Birch Beer
- Criterion I Steakhouse
- Pizza Garden
- Royal Carousel
- Royal Sky Campground
- The End
- Visit the last Royal Castle
ROYAL CASTLE – MIAMI COMPANY
Ohio transplant William Singer founded Royal Castle in 1938. The original location at 7957 NE 2nd Avenue in Miami was razed long ago.
Singer’s inspiration was the White Castle hamburger chain which was all over Ohio and had been founded more than 25 years earlier in Wichita, Kansas.
By the time that White Castle had migrated to South Florida in 1959, Royal Castle had a stranglehold on all of the mini-burger loving folks of Miami.
They were round – unlike their square, northern White Castle counterparts – perhaps two half dollars wide and not much thicker, fried to within an inch of their lives and topped with minced fried onions and a couple of pickle slices.Miami Herald’s Jeffrey Weiss talking about the differences between the Royal Castle & White Castle burgers
Royal Castles were also known for their breakfasts. All of their orange juice was freshly squeezed to order, eggs were cooked in butter, and the coffee was served with heavy whipping cream.
The company would reach a peak of over 200 restaurant locations in the mid-1960s.
During its opening week of sales in Miami, the first store grossed $245.
The first twenty Royal Castle buildings were open air. After a disagreement with the powers (local government) that be, it necessitated the switch to a closed design.
William Singer had a local company design the iconic flat top, glass-fronted buildings that are still associated with Royal Castle to this day.
Another feature that longtime fans remember is that upon entering most Royal Castles, you would find their Fit for a King slogan embedded in the terrazzo floor.
COOL FACT: When he worked for Prince Castle, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame sold multimixer shake machines to Royal Castle.
PUBLIC THEN SOLD
The company went public in 1965.
A few years later, Royal Castle sold the company to Performance Systems Inc., owners of Minnie Pearl’s Chicken, in February 1969.
Performance Systems then became embroiled in a scandal with the Securities and Trade Commission over their method of reporting franchise fees.
By the time that Performance Systems announced 1969 earnings as a loss of thirty-nine million in September 1970, they were in financial trouble.
Performance Systems was forced to sell Royal Castle locations where the property value far exceeded the profit generated by the restaurant.
FORGOTTEN ROYAL CASTLE HISTORY
It’s interesting to note that female carhops with flared pants served cars at the very first location. Why interesting? Women would not be allowed to work inside of a Royal Castle restaurant again until 1967.
The ugliest part of the company’s history was when blacks were not welcome inside of Royal Castle. They could only order from an outdoor take-out window.
Everything changed during the mid-1960s. James N. Brimberry would be the first black employee to work at a Royal Castle restaurant.
The irony in all of this is that James would eventually purchase seven locations as the company was finally liquidated in 1979 after its bankruptcy in 1975.
He alone kept the Royal Castle banner alive all these years.
Now, his grandson James Brimberry has followed in his footsteps.
Some films and tv programs have been filmed in or around Royal Castles like the James Bond film Goldfinger and the 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight.
ROYAL CASTLE – OHIO COMPANY
Many folks are familiar with the Royal Castle based out of Miami, which expanded to Georgia and Louisiana but did not know there was a separate Royal Castle company operating in Cleveland, Ohio & Michigan.
The Ohio-based Royal Castle was founded in 1940 and run by William Singer’s brother Samuel.
The Ohio locations were almost identical to their sister restaurants from the Miami chain.
As the Miami restaurants were struggling to survive in 1973, the 32 locations in Ohio and Michigan were purchased by Sugardale Foods Inc.
In 1975, Sugardale closed all of the Ohio spots due to poor performance.
Royal Castle made several attempts to franchise but it never worked out for them.
Below you can flip through the franchising pamphlet from the late 1960s.
ROYAL CASTLE LOCATIONS
ROYAL CASTLE HITS 100 LOCATIONS
ROYAL CASTLE COMMISSARY
In 1958, Royal Castle built a giant commissary along railroad tracks in Hialeah so that the company had room to grow.
It even had a 24 hour restaurant.
The building still stands today.
REPURPOSED ROYAL CASTLE BUILDINGS
Royal Castle buildings had an unmistakable look.
Many are still standing today and have been repurposed for another business.
Back in 1977 when Arbetter Hot Dogs expanded to a second location, it was in a former Royal Castle building at 12530 NE 6th Avenue (the building is gone).
The first Char-Hut location opened in 1976 at the former Royal Castle building in 700 NW 183rd Street (Miami Gardens).
1528 W Tennessee Street
ENTENMANN’S BAKERY OUTLET
Entenmann’s Bakery Outlet
6700 Pembroke Road
Pembroke Pines, Florida
ERNESTO’S TACO SHOP
Ernesto’s Taco Shop
20095 S Dixie Highway
Cutler Bay, Florida
FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1540 S. Dixie Highway (US 1)
Coral Gables, Florida
THE LICKING aka FINGA LICKING
12490 NW 7th Avenue
North Miami, Florida
LA CRUZADA RESTAURANT
La Cruzada Restaurant
331 Park Place
5615 W Colonial Drive
1098 W 29th Street
3701 SW 8th Street
SOME NEWSPAPER ADS OVER THE YEARS
THE ROYAL SPATULA
The Royal Spatula, a company newsletter is a prized possession for Royal Castle collectors.
ROYAL CASTLE BIRCH BEER
Royal Castle would end up bottling their famous house-made Birch Beer and Castle Cola and selling it in Florida and Ohio supermarkets.
OTHER ROYAL CASTLE OWNED BUSINESSES
Royal Castle tried to diversify with Royal Carousel, an automated restaurant, Royal Sky Campgrounds, Criterion I Steakhouses, and Pizza Garden.
None of them turned enough of a profit to get them out of the hole they were in.
ROYAL CAROUSEL 1967
Read more about Royal Carousel (click here).
ROYAL SKY CAMPGROUND 1972-1976
CRITERION I STEAKHOUSE 1973-1975
PIZZA GARDEN 1973-1975
THE END OF THE ROYAL CASTLE CHAIN
If you have a property that’s worth $120,000 and you’re only making a net profit of $5,000 a year then you aren’t getting a good return on your investment. And that was a position we were in.Kleber Dunklin, Royal Castle Chairman & President
To compete with the speed at which McDonald’s and their contemporaries could pump out burgers, Royal Castle began making the burgers in advance.
The burgers would sit in a holding drawer, which affected the quality and taste.
The company attempted to rebrand and change the menu, but it was too late.
In 1975, Royal Castle’s stockholders began to liquidate the company’s assets.
The final liquidation payment came in October 1979.
VISIT THE LAST ROYAL CASTLE!
There’s one Royal Castle left in Miami.
Make the drive over to 2700 NW 79th Street to get your fill of their hamburgers and birch beer.