Royal Castle postcard

Royal Castle Hamburgers, A Miami Legend Since 1938

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.

ROYAL CASTLE HISTORY

JUMP TO A SECTION

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.

Grand Opening ad for Royal Castle from The Miami Herald on March 18, 1938
Grand Opening ad for Royal Castle from The Miami Herald on March 18, 1938
Original Location Building
Original Location Building
Original Location Building Print
Original Location Building Print

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.

The Miami News 2-14-69
The Miami News 2-14-69

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.

SCREEN READY

Royal Castle in the film Goldfinger
Royal Castle in the film Goldfinger

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

Ohio Stores Sold - Lansing State Journal April 20th, 1973
Lansing State Journal April 20th, 1973

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.


FRANCHISING

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

1961 Restaurant Locations
1961 Restaurant Locations
Map - Tampa Bay Times 7-28-66
Map ad from the Tampa Bay Times 7-28-66
1967 Directory of Restaurants
1967 Directory of Restaurants

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.

Commissary in the Miami Herald 1-19-58
Commissary in the Miami Herald 1-19-58
Royal Castle Commissary in Hialeah
Royal Castle Commissary Postcard in Hialeah, picture courtesy of DonBoyd.net
Royal Castle Commissary Building, current picture by Phillip Pessar
Former Royal Castle Commissary Building, picture courtesy of Phillip Pessar

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).

DOMINO’S PIZZA

Domino's Pizza in Tallahassee, a former Royal Castle building
Domino’s Pizza in Tallahassee
Royal Castle Tallahassee Grand Opening
Royal Castle Tallahassee Grand Opening January 17th, 1969
Grand Opening ad in the Tallahassee Democrat January 17, 1969
Grand Opening ad in the Tallahassee Democrat January 17, 1969

Domino’s Pizza
1528 W Tennessee Street
Tallahassee, Florida


ENTENMANN’S BAKERY OUTLET

Entenmann's Bakery Outlet in Pembroke Pines, a former Royal Castle building
Entenmann’s Bakery Outlet in Pembroke Pines

Entenmann’s Bakery Outlet
6700 Pembroke Road
Pembroke Pines, Florida


ERNESTO’S TACO SHOP

Ernesto's Taco Shop in Cutler Bay, a former Royal Castle building
Ernesto’s Taco Shop in Cutler Bay, picture courtesy of Anthony Gonzalez
Royal Castle Terrazzo Floor at Ernesto's Taco Shop in Cutler Bay
Royal Castle terrazzo floor at Ernesto’s Taco Shop in Cutler Bay

Ernesto’s Taco Shop
20095 S Dixie Highway
Cutler Bay, Florida


FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES

Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Coral Gables, a former Royal Castle building
Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Coral Gables

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1540 S. Dixie Highway
(US 1)
Coral Gables, Florida


THE LICKING aka FINGA LICKING

Finga Licking in North Miami, a former Royal Castle building
Finga Licking in North Miami

The Licking, formerly Arnold’s Royal Castle
12490 NW 7th Avenue
North Miami, Florida


LA CRUZADA RESTAURANT

La Cruzada in Homestead, a former Royal Castle building
La Cruzada in Homestead
 Royal Castle terrazzo floor at La Cruzada in Homestead
Royal Castle terrazzo floor at La Cruzada in Homestead, picture courtesy of Gina Guilford

La Cruzada Restaurant
331 Park Place
Homestead, Florida


MR. QUICK

Mr Quick in Orlando, a former Royal Castle
Royal Castle terrazzo floor at Mr Quick in Orlando

Mr. Quick
5615 W Colonial Drive
Orlando, Florida


PACIFICO CHINESE

Pacifico Chinese in Hialeah, a former Royal Castle building
Pacifico Chinese in Hialeah

Pacifico Chinese
1098 W 29th Street
Hialeah, Florida

EMPTY

Old Marlins Store in Miami, a former Royal Castle
Former Marlins Store & Estrella Insurance in Miami

EMPTY
3701 SW 8th Street
Miami, Florida


SOME NEWSPAPER ADS OVER THE YEARS

  • Royal Castle ad in the Miami Herald 11-16-41
  • Royal Castle ad in the Miami Herald 11-28-55
  • Royal Castle in the Orlando Sentinel 7-22-63
  • Ad in the Orlando Sentinel 8-26-63
  • Royal Castle ad in the Miami Herald 7-17-66
  • Ad in the Palm Beach Post 1-19-69
  • Royal Castle ad in the Miami News 3-12-71

THE ROYAL SPATULA

The Royal Spatula, a company newsletter is a prized possession for Royal Castle collectors.

The Royal Spatula Newsletter
The Royal Spatula Newsletter

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.

Birch Beer ad from the Orlando Sentinel 7-17-59
Birch Beer ad from the Orlando Sentinel 7-17-59
Royal Castle Birch Beer Bottle & Mugs
Royal Castle Birch Beer Bottle & Mugs, from my Burger Museum collection

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

The Miami Times August 18th, 1967

Read more about Royal Carousel (click here).


ROYAL SKY CAMPGROUND 1972-1976

The Tampa Tribune 1-3-73
The Tampa Tribune 1-3-73

CRITERION I STEAKHOUSE 1973-1975

Criterion Steakhouse in the Miami News 3-20-73
The Miami News 3-20-73

PIZZA GARDEN 1973-1975

Pizza Garden in The Miami News May 11th, 1974
The Miami News May 11th, 1974

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.


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VISIT THE LAST ROYAL CASTLE!

The last Royal Castle, owned by James Brimberry
The last Royal Castle, owned by James Brimberry

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.

READ ALSO

Royal Castle Hamburgers in Miami, Florida

Royal Castle’s Royal Carousel

7 Comments

  1. Great Old Miami place. I spot their iconic buildings all over town. Open 24/7, even during Hurricanes !!!

  2. Thanks for sharing! Before I moved to AL, I lived about 2 mins. from the last remaining location.

  3. Very interesting to see what the old Royal Castle buildings turned into. I like Ernestos and had noticed the Royal Castle sign before.

  4. I was a CPA working for Price Waterhouse in the 70’s and I participated in the liquidation of the company. Details escape me now, but as I recall, one of the reasons for liquidating was that Royal Castle owned a great deal of real estate. This was the subject of the work I was doing accounting for the real estate sales. In many cases when you saw an “RC Steakhouse” as we sometimes called them on a street corner with a Food Fair or other larger establishment behind it, the owner of a large part of that block was Royal Castle and the tenant was paying rent to RC. Singer liked to invest in real estate. This made the value of Royal Castle assets much more than the stock value on the market. Royal Castle was still profitable in spite of its image. In fact, the bakery at Royal Castle baked sold hamburger buns to Burger King and others in those years. I recall having lunch with Kleber Dunklin a few times.

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