Founded 1963 Relaunched 2019. The Postmodern South.
Remembering Royal Castle Hamburgers
Remembering Royal Castle Hamburgers

Remembering Royal Castle Hamburgers

Elsewhere in this blog I have discussed Mahalia Jackson’s Fried Chicken and its troubled parent company Performance Systems, owned by former Tennessee gubernatorial candidate John Jay Hooker, but one of the sadder stories is how Performance Systems brought down one of Miami’s most memorable fast food chains, Royal Castle. William Singer, a transplanted Ohioan, started the burger chain in Miami in 1938, seemingly patterning it after the Ohio-based White Castle chain, although anyone familiar with the two chains generally said that Royal Castle’s hand-pattied burgers were better. The company expanded throughout Florida, into Cleveland, Ohio and finally to New Orleans, Louisiana, where old-timers are just as nostalgic about it as Miamians.
Unfortunately, the spread of McDonalds, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food chains led to a waning of Royal Castle’s fortunes, and when John Jay Hooker and Performance Systems came along offering to buy Royal Castle, William Singer readily agreed. After all, Performance Systems seemed to be riding high with Minnie Pearl’s and Mahalia Jackson’s chicken restaurants, Minnie Pearl’s Roast Beef restaurants, and they were expanding into child care centers and automobile repair centers. What Singer didn’t know is that Performance Systems was rapidly unraveling, and desperately looking for new sources of revenue, such as a 63-store burger chain that might be the most popular in South Florida. The problem was that Hooker’s company was reporting one-time, non-recurring franchise fees as revenue, which led to massive increases in the stock price, but of course, once the franchise rights in all 50 states had been sold, there was little way to generate continuing income, except by starting a new chain (hence the child care centers and car repair shops). Worse, even though PSI had sold franchise rights to the entire country, most of those restaurants had not been built, much less opened or generating revenue. Of the ones that did open, customers seemed less than thrilled with Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken. Royal Castle was troubled when purchased by Performance Systems, but probably could have survived. As it was, the failure of the parent company led to the total collapse of Royal Castle…well, almost. Two locations have survived in Miami, under separate owners. The one I took a picture of at 79th and NW 27th Avenue is the most interesting, as it is owned by an African-American who was one of the first ever to be hired by Royal Castle in the mid-1960’s (one of the uglier parts of Royal Castle history is that Black patrons were not allowed inside, nor were Blacks hired to work there until the Civil Rights Movement). It is somehow fitting that he went from being one of the first Black employees to owning one of the only two remaining Royal Castles in the world. Although I wanted to go inside and eat a breakfast (they’re open 24 hours a day), I had already had plenty to eat, so I headed back to my hotel instead.


  1. Ron

    A little historical perspective is needed here. RC was not unique in barring “Colored” people from their restaurants, ALL restaurants in the South followed this practice. Those that did serve blacks did so in separate dining areas. I’m not justifying it, but that’s the way it was. I am from New York, grew up in Miami and live in Boston. I mention this to give some balance because years ago if a black went into certain restaurants, bars or diners in New York or Boston the only thing they’d get served was an ass-kicking. Those days are gone, but not forgotten.

    1. admin

      I think almost everyone is aware that most restaurants in the South followed some practice of segregation, although it differed widely from restaurant to restaurant, and I am sure there were a few that probably quietly served everyone, particularly in the upper South. Common practice was to offer Blacks to-go service only, so Royal Castle was a little extreme even by Southern standards. There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of some in America today to bring back those dreadful days in which a person could be denied service because of their race. Those who are promoting this of course claim that it has nothing to do with race, and everything with preserving private property rights and curbing the powers of government, but of course that was much of the segregationist position in 1964 too. And why would anyone object to a Federal law prohibiting “whites only” signs unless they really wanted to put the “whites only” signs back up?

  2. In the 50s & 60s there was a popular kiddie show in Miami (The Skipper Chuck Show) , and when the host, Chuck Zink, discovered that black children were not allowed on the show, he demanded the policy be changed. And it was. The day after the first black child appeared on the show, Singer pull all advertising from the show. Royal Castle had been the show’s largest advertiser. A new, small chain stepped in and took up the slack . . . Burger King.

  3. Cynthia

    I loved their hamburgers! You could eat 4 of the little square burgers and be full. I use to go to the one in Davie Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale every Friday. I got 4 burgers a fry and a root beer! Wish they were still around. White Castle dies not even compare to Royal Castle.

  4. Jokah

    During Hurricane Donna the Royal Castle was the only place that stayed open, operating on bottled gas.

    As a college student in Tampa I frequented a Royal Castle where the counterman (a yankee from Ohio) refused to charge me for a bowl of grits. Said he had a conscience. Called it Georgia ice cream.

    Far superior to White Castles!!

  5. Michael Arciola

    Royal Castle was great. After the Pompano Beach High School games we would gather there and enjoy the burgers, fries, chili and of course the Birch Beer in a frozen mug. Anytime I go to Miami I make it a point to stop at the Royal Castle.

  6. Bill Kopper

    Royal Castle hamburgers in Cleveland were the best! Ask anyone who graduated from high school in the Cleveland area in those wonderful 1950s!

    A Royal Castle, fries, and a Coke or a Manner’s Big Boy kept many of going strong! A date in those days usually included going to see a movie, stopping for a Big Boy and finishing the evening parked somewhere until midnight, the standard “be home by” time!

    1. Don Markusic

      I remember those fun times . I lived on East side of Cleveland work the graveyard shift . I remember going to Royal Castle at all hours of the night . Only place open 7/ 24 . Used to patronize The royal castle in the Collingwood neighborhood .

  7. john bockmon

    I was in the army in south miami in 1963-64. we would go to RC and get 6 burgers and a glass of fresh squeezed OJ (25 cents) burgers were 15 cents. this RC was in coral gables very near to U of Miami.
    when in N O Louisiana late 60′ they had Royal Castles. yes, I think they were Better than white castle. Yeah, I really miss them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.