Today I found out Chef Boyardee was a real person.
Ettore Boiardi was an Italian-American immigrant born in 1897. He worked as a cook at his first restaurant at the tender age of 10 years old in Italy. He later immigrating to America at the age of 16 and took the name “Hector Boiardi” as he passed through Ellis Island.
From there, he worked at a variety of high end restaurants in New York as a cook, eventually working his way up to Chef. At the age of 24, he moved to Cleveland and opened a restaurant with his wife. The restaurant was called “Il Giardino d’Italia”, which means “The Garden of Italy”.
As he developed a strong customer base, he found himself in the enviable position of having customers clamber after his food so much, they wanted to take it home with them so they could have it any time. He thus began bottling up his sauces in old milk bottles and packaging his special blends of cheeses and spices with dried pasta and selling these meal kits to customers. It wasn’t long before the sale totals of these products surpassed his restaurant earnings, despite the restaurant itself doing booming business.
Fast forward around 4 years and the volume of his carry out meals being sold per day required a factory to produce. Another 6 years later and he came up with the now famous brand name “Chef Boyardee”, changing the spelling of his name to be phonetically correct, as he was tired of explaining to people how to pronounce his name and thought if he was going to be selling nationally, he should make it easy for Americans to pronounce. The rest is history.
- Before launching the Chef Boyardee line of products, Chef Boiardi, in 1915 at the age of 17 years old, supervised the catering for President Woodrow Wilson’s wedding reception.
- Unlike Chef Boyardee, the following brands feature fictitious people: Betty Crocker, Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima, and Ronald McDonald.
- Some other real people behind brands, besides Chef Boyardee, were Uncle Ben; KFC’s Harland Sanders; popcorn’s Orville Redenbacher; and McDonald’s Dick and Mac McDonald.
- Boiardi used to grow his own tomatoes and mushrooms in the basement of the factory where his product line was produced. This not only helped cut down on the cost of ingredients, but also helped insure that the ingredients were top quality and provided a steady supply.
- When stirring sauce, you should always stir with the spoon’s rounded side down, rather than stir sideways like pretty much everyone does. This will help you not spill any sauce as well as create little whirlpools in the sauce as the curve side down glides through the sauce; this provides optimal mixing.
- During the Depression, Boiardi’s company grew by leaps and bounds due to the fact that his product was incredibly cheap compared to most other meals and was very tasty (one assumes more tasty than now back then when Boiardi was directly involved in the production and quality control).
- Chef Boiardi was awarded a Gold Star Order of Excellence from the United States War Department for supplying millions of rations for American and Allied troops during WWII.
- Boiardi originally grew his trademark mustache to try to make himself look older as he was generally the youngest cook in the often top notch restaurants where he was a cook at, starting around 16 when he moved to America. One of the more famous he worked at as a youth was New York’s famous Plaza and Ritz-Carlton hotel.
- Boiardi met his future factory superintendent when he approached the then employee of Vincennes Packing Co with the idea of canning his sauces. He said “I run a restaurant in Cleveland and am catering parties by putting my spaghetti in a bucket. Could spaghetti be canned?” The future superintendent responded with, “You can can almost anything, but I don’t know what it would taste like. Let’s try!”
- Boiardi sold his company for six million dollars in 1946 primarily due to the fact that he was having trouble managing the incredible rapid growth of the company (at this time annually grossing 20 million dollars worth of sales a year, which makes that 6 million dollar sale price a crazy good deal). The company he sold to was American Home Products (today called International Home Foods). He stayed on as a consultant there until 1978. The Chef Boyardee line was later sold, in 2000, to ConAgra Foods.
- At the time of his death in 1985, at the age of 87 years old, the Chef Boyardee line of food products was grossing over half a billion dollars per year.
- Boiardi was survived by his wife Helen Wroblewski Boiardi, who eventually died in 1995, and his son Mario Boiardi, who in turn died in 2007.
- Mario Boiardi was a sharpshooter Army Ranger in WWII and later in the Korean War. He also held a degree in business and co-owned a steel mill with his father. He later started a successful flooring and tile company. He dated his future wife, whom he stayed married to until his death, for two years before telling her his real name. When he did so, he took her to a grocery store at 1am, this followed: Wife: “I thought he was going to tell me it was a no-go and that he thought the relationship was a mistake, so I said, ‘Look, it’s been great. Just remember one thing, let’s part friends.’ He looked at me and said, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ He put his hand into my trolley cart, pulled out a can and said, ‘this is my father.’ We both cried.”
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