Throughout Black History Month, IFDA will be honoring the rich legacy of Black Americans in our nation’s culinary history. Today we shine a light on Ernie Royal, a foodservice industry trailblazer and legend of the New England culinary scene.
Beginning his career as a teenage busboy in Boston, Royal worked his way through the local restaurant industry with the goal of owning his own establishment. After facing resistance from hometown banks he took his talents to Rutland, Vermont, where he opened Royal’s Hearthside in 1963.
Royal’s Hearthside quickly became a regional institution drawing diners from across the Northeast. For over 30 years he and his wife Willa, a talented baker, fostered local loyalty and national attention for their delectable New England cuisine and memorable dining experience.
“Every single night you must feel like you’re putting on a party, and you must feel like singing and dancing,” Royal said about his approach to foodservice.
Royal was the first Black restaurant owner in Vermont, the first Black board member of the National Restaurant Association, and a mentor to countless young chefs. His legacy includes a scholarship for Black students at the Culinary Institute of America, posthumous induction into the African-American Chefs Hall of Fame, and a forthcoming statue on the Rutland Sculpture Trail.