Ettore Boiardi (October 22, 1897 – June 21, 1985), better known as "Chef Boyardee", was an Italian-born chef who became famous for his eponymous brand of food products.
Ettore (Hector) Boiardi was born in Piacenza, Italy, and at age 16 arrived at Ellis Island on May 9, 1914, aboard the French ship La Lorraine. His culinary reputation grew and he became the head chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York. In 1915, he supervised the catering for the reception of President Woodrow Wilson's second marriage at the Greenbrier, in West Virginia. His entrepreneurial skill became fine-tuned when he opened his first restaurant, Il Giardino d'Italia, in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926. Patrons asked for samples and recipes of his spaghetti sauce, which he would often give to the customers in old milk bottles.
As demand grew, in 1928 he began to use a factory to keep up with orders. It was at this time that he set his sights on selling his product nationally, touting the low cost of his spaghetti products as a good choice to serve to the entire family. In 1938, the factory was moved to Milton, Pennsylvania, where Boiardi had greater input into the quality control of the ingredients placed into his products. He even grew mushrooms in the basement factory for use in his creations. Boiardi was quite proud of his Italian heritage. He sold his products under the brand name Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, allowing his American customers to pronounce his name properly.
Chef Boyardee logo.Later, he sold his brand to American Home Foods (later International Home Foods) for around USD$6 million after family concerns about the company's internal growth and its struggling cashflow after growing so rapidly. Boiardi then took his money and invested a substantial portion into steel mills, which then helped produce goods needed for the Korean war effort. Boiardi's company made and prepared millions of rations for the American and other allied troops during World War II, and for his efforts he was awarded a gold star order of excellence from the United States War Department. He then helped make new Italian food products for the American market until his death. ConAgra acquired International Home Foods in 2000 and continues to use his likeness on Chef Boyardee brand products.
In the last two decades, rumors have abounded[attribution needed] that Chef Boyardee was not a real person, but merely a fictional character created to sell foodstuffs, such as Aunt Jemima. Boiardi in fact appeared in many of his company's television commercials for his brand in the 1950s and 1960s.
Boiardi died in Parma, Ohio, on June 21, 1985 at the age of 87. At the time of his death, Chef Boy-ar-dee products were bringing in USD$500 million per year. Boiardi's wife Helen died in 1995. At the time of her death, they were survived by their only child, Mario, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren