The Royal Family

When Lee Tabas went public with a letter questioning his brother Robert’s leadership of the family bank in Narberth, he pulled back the veil on a real-life soap opera: a storied, wealthy Main Line family torn asunder by greed, backstabbing and gossip; a colorful patriarch who pitted son against son; and a trail of scandal and lawsuits that has almost everyone not talking to someone else. Meet the Tabases

But after reading the letter, Naftulin called Robert, concerned. Robert didn’t seem to be. “It’s all pie in the sky,” Robert told him. “He’s my brother. We work together. Do we have disagreements, like any other brothers in any other families? Yes. My brother is a guy who puts things on the table. He says it like it is. Do I agree with him? Not necessarily. It is what it is.”

But others who know the family well say the spat was not like the disagreements of other brothers in other families. “Robert and Lee never had a good relationship,” says a close family friend who’s known the pair since they were kids.

Growing up, they certainly couldn’t have been more different. Lee was the oldest, extremely smart but extremely shy. He’d gotten a job at Lincoln Bank back in the ’70s as part of a deal his father made (when Dan reneged on the deal, Lee was let go), then went on to run Royal Bank for 20 years. Even now, people who know him describe him as uptight, conservative, even dull. Robert, on the other hand, was the black sheep, but also the personable, handsome, fun-loving type. He managed several Tabas family businesses before being named a vice president at Royal, under Lee.

“There was a lot of backstabbing … a lot of jealousy between the two brothers,” says a source who worked with both years ago. “Their father played them against each other. You saw it.”

It was no secret that Lee and his father — the large and also larger-than-life family patriarch and Philadelphia legend Daniel Tabas — often didn’t see eye-to-eye. Sure, they bought Royal Bank together in 1980, and sure, Lee had the top title in the chain of command. But everyone knew it was Dan who called the shots.

“Dan was the entire force behind everything,” says George Fogwell, who started working for the Tabases as a busboy at the 1796 House, the restaurant at their Downingtown Motor Inn, in 1965 and has remained close to the family ever since. (It was Fogwell who drove Mickey Rooney from Downingtown to Judy Garland’s funeral in 1969.)

Dan was a notorious control freak, and not just with business. He controlled his family. “He made a lot of ‘suggestions,’ but to him, they were rules,” says someone who did business with Dan. The story goes that he told family members what to order at restaurants and how to decorate and where to buy their gas. He bought them enormous houses in his Haverford neighborhood — close enough to keep his hands on the reins. “It was always ‘Daddy this’ and ‘Daddy that,’” says a family friend, who wonders if the kids, or even wife Evelyn, could make a decision without asking Dan first.

Then, in 2003, Dan died. “I don’t know how they function without him,” says the friend. Four years before, Lee had announced he was retiring from his role as CEO of the bank. But once he was gone and a non-Tabas named Joe Campbell — who’d been with the family since Dan hired him as a busboy at the age of 14 — was at the helm, the bank started doing better. In fact, during his tenure, the bank’s assets jumped from $427 million to $1.3 billion.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 < Previous Next >View as One Page

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • stephanie

    Good dirt and reading!

  • Barton

    During my childhood, in the late 40's and early 50's, I lived a few doors from "Uncle Charles" and Aunt Harriet and their son, Andy, and I would occassionally visit at them at their home where we would pop popcorn. They are really nice people.

  • Anne

    Ok , every family has it’s dirt or secrets
    Just cause these are smart and part of the ” chosen people ” who have brains and business smarts and happen to have made successes of themselves all you other jealous creeps need to get a life and stop using this family and other Main Line families as scapegoats. Get a life and work hard like the Tabas’ did to build their empire instead of looking for juicy stories like insecure leeches . This is one dignified family . They are not selfish but selfless and it is time to thank them for all charitable work that has enhanced the quality of life of the Main Line , Philadelphia , Adath Israel ,and so on and so on
    instead of bashing them

  • Bob

    Certainly some take pleasure in sniping at the rich, and no doubt there is an element of antisemitism at work, too. But this story is factual. I worked for the Tabas family and was privy to much. To put it politely, Daniel Tabas was not a very nice man. Yes, he worked hard, but he was also cruel, greedy, and heartless, a caricature of the money-grubbing Jew, unlike the vast majority of our people. Yes, he gave millions to good causes, but not because he gave a damn about anyone other than himself and his direct descendants but rather to buy respectability. He was a bully who treated his managers badly. He lined his immediate family’s pockets by putting everyone on the payroll of businesses that they never stuck their noses into, while paying employees sub-standard wages. He made a lot of people’s lives miserable. Dignified? That’s laughable.
    The previous comment attempts to write off any criticism of Daniel Tabas as jealousy. I think not. The evidence is overwhelming. And I

  • Bob

    (It says 200 word max, why cut me off at 175? To continue . . .) The evidence is overwhelming. And I can’t think of anyone less deserving of jealousy than he; he may have had millions, but my impression of him was he was a very unhappy man.

  • Anne

    There are lots of disgruntled employees and the greatest TV episodes are based around so many of these stories . Since you are not coming forth to reveal your identity Mr Bob , I think you’re full of it . I happen to know alot of this history and my family performed acts of kindness with theirs. The women of this family are some of the kindest most giving people who do not demand publicity or even acknowlegment for their charity and help to others. If you are Jewish , Gd is watching and listening .

    some of us just actually get more pleasure from helping others which may be a foreign concept to you . Get a life and a job you can hold on to and leave the Tabas’ alone

  • Bob

    Funny, criticizing me then posting anonymous, whoever you are. I have no ax to grind and rarely criticize others. I stand by everything I wrote. I only post anonymous so as not to suffer possible retribution from a family that can be very mean. And while my comments are about people I knew and worked with, your comments about me are meaningless, you know nothing about me. If you did, you’d know my whole life is about kindness. I only spoke up against the Tabas’s (and not all of them, by the way) because I was witness to the pain they, particularly Daniel, caused. The article that we are commenting on- do you think the journalist has an ax to grind? No, he researched a story and told it how it was. And yes, I am a Jew. Not the hypocritical kind of Jew that you are either. G-d is watching and listening, indeed. What arrogance. Perhaps your defense of Daniel is because you are a megalomaniac like he was. But I can’t say, because I don’t know you. Only a real horse’s…

  • Bob

    continued . . .Only a real horse’s ass would write what you did about someone you know absolutely nothing about!!