The Royal Castle Hamburger Chain Meetup
Above: The Royal Castle Tasting Crew
Before there was Burger King, before there was McDonalds, before there was anything known as a Kobe burger, there was Royal Castle, Miami’s original fast food joint, renowned for its tasty mini burgers.
Launched in 1938 by a man named William Singer at Northeast Second Avenue and 79th St., Royal Castle became one of the most successful fast food restaurants in the United States.
By 1960, there were 175 Royal Castles throughout Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, with the bulk of them in Miami.
It was our version of White Castle, the fast food chain launched in Columbus, Ohio in 1921 whose sliders have long been a staple in northern states, immortalized in stoner comedies and Beastie Boys songs.
In fact, Singer, who was also from Columbus, was inspired by the success of White Castle when he launched Royal Castle during the Great Depression.
Above: Jersey girl Mari Romero ventured on the field trip because she missed the White Castle burgers from back home.
After all, no matter how bad the economy gets, people still need to eat. And what better way to stay within your budget than feasting on cheap mini burgers?
However, by 1975, six years after Singer sold the business, there were only 85 Royal Castles left and they were losing business fast, finding themselves unable to compete with McDonalds and Burger King, the latter which was also founded in Miami in 1954.
By 1976, the company had gone out of business and most of the remaining Royal Castles ended up as Cuban restaurants, Chinese restaurants or fish and chip shops.
Above: They use a little more onions at Arnold’s Royal Castle.
But there were two Royal Castles that survived the transition. Two Royal Castles that never ceased serving the delicious mini burgers. Two Royal Castles that still survive today.
On Tuesday, we decided to find out which Royal Castle serves the better burger.
Above: Service with a smile at Brimberry’s Royal Castle.
Hop on the Short Bus
It started off with a late night status update on Facebook. I had been driving down from Broward on I-95 and was diverted off the expressway because of road construction.
I drove down to 27th Ave. – which is one of the few Miami streets that continues southward without interruption – and found myself coming across one of the last two Royal Castles.
It was past midnight and I was starving. And I was grouchy at having been forced off the expressway. I pulled into the parking lot and made my way inside.
That turned into a conversation with several friends and plans to compare the two Royal Castles.
Three weeks later, we ended up piling into Bulldog’s short bus with Burger Beast tagging along in his own car. There were about 15 of us, including a pair of Texans, a pair of Jersey girls and a bevy of Miami natives. A field trip to burger gluttony.
The first Royal Castle we hit was the one that started this trip. The one on NW 79th St. and 27th Ave. This one is owned by a man named James Brimberry, who has worked at that location since 1964.
Above: The Royal Castle at 2700 NW 79th St owned by James Brimberry
In fact, Brimberry was the very first black man to be hired at Royal Castle. Prior to that, Royal Castle would not allow black people inside the restaurant, forcing them to buy their burgers through a side window. Miami, indeed, was part of the ugly segregated south.
A few months after Brimberry was hired, a white customer refused his service. It was that point that Brimberry decided to one day own Royal Castle. His dream came true in 1976 after the company went out of business.
The second Royal Castle we hit was the one on NW 125th St. and 7th Ave. This one is owned by Wayne Arnold, a white man who worked at Royal Castle from 1961 until 1976 when he was fired after the company went out of business. He purchased this location in 1980 and opened it in 1982.
Above: The Royal Castle at 12490 NW 7th Ave owned by Wayne Arnold
Both Royal Castles cook the burgers in the traditional manner on top of a bed of onions on the grill. And they both serve them with onions, ketchup and a pickle, just as they did back in the 1930s. You can also ask for cheese.
But only Brimberry’s Royal Castle grills the buns, which is what I like. Brimberry’s also cooks the burgers more thoroughly, giving it a more well-done taste, which is also what I like.
However, other people in my group preferred Arnold’s Royal Castle because they tend to use more onions and they also like the fact that the burgers are not so well-done.
So it’s really a matter of personal taste.
Either way, you will end up with a taste of Miami’s history.
Above: Jersey girl Rachel Gonzalez digs in at Brimberry’s Royal Castle.
Above: Miami native Adriana De Welde indulges in a double beef, double cheese burger as Texan James Echols gets it on camera.
Above: Working the grill at Brimberry’s Royal Castle.
Above: The welcome mat at Arnold’s Royal Castle.
Above: Keeping busy at Brimberry’s Royal Castle.
Above: Jersey girls
Above: Carlos Miller with the short bus in the background.
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