Everyone knows the mustachioed face emblazoned on cans of SpaghettiOs and Beefaroni. But what of the man himself? Here, we take a look at some things you might not know about the man, the brand, the legend: Chef Boyardee.
1. HIS NAME WAS HECTOR.
Actually, it was Ettore—Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant from Piacenza who changed his first name shortly after coming to America.
2. AND HE WAS A RENOWNED CHEF.
In Italy, Hector started as a chef’s apprentice at age 11. In America, he took jobs in Greenbrier, West Virginia and New York City, and by age 17 had become a chef at New York’s Plaza Hotel alongside his brother, Mario (his other brother, Paul, was a waiter). Hector eventually became the Plaza’s head chef.
3. HE CATERED WOODROW WILSON’S WEDDING.
4. HECTOR OPENED HIS OWN RESTAURANT IN CLEVELAND.
Boiardi began introducing Italian dishes into the predominantly French menu at the Plaza. Eager to take the concept further (which was a significant risk in the days before Olive Garden was in every city and Ragù sauce on every shelf), Boiardi opened Il Giardino d’Italia in Cleveland. The restaurant became an instant success, with lines frequently stretching down the block.
5. CHEF BOYARDEE WAS THE NATION’S LARGEST IMPORTER OF PARMESAN CHEESE AT THE TIME.
They also bought lots and lots of olive oil from Italy.
6. HIS SPAGHETTI SAUCE WAS SO POPULAR, HE STARTED SELLING IT IN MILK BOTTLES.
Customers also asked for his recipes, which he gave them along with serving tips.
7. HE STARTED CHEF BOY-AR-DEE WITH HIS BROTHERS IN 1928.
Boiardi brother Paul, who stayed on at the Plaza Hotel, served up Hector’s spaghetti to an enthusiastic diner named John Hartford, who happened to be the president of A&P supermarkets. Hartford encouraged the Boiardi brothers to go into manufacturing, and pretty soon Chef Boy-ar-dee (they hyphenated the name to help with pronunciation) was on shelves at A&P supermarkets across the country.
8. THEY MOVED TO PENNSYLVANIA SO THEY COULD GROW TOMATOES AND MUSHROOMS.
Hector wanted only fresh tomatoes and mushrooms in his pasta sauce. So he bought up land in Milton, Penn. and built the factory nearby. It’s still in operation today.
9. THE MILITARY COMMISSIONED HIM TO MAKE RATIONS FOR WW2 SOLDIERS.
Boiardi closed his plant to civilian production and turned to making meals for the troops (which included his own son, Mario, who was a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army). He kept his plant open 24 hours a day, and would become the largest supplier of rations during the war.
10. AFTER THE WAR, THE BOIARDIS SOLD THE COMPANY.
Despite increased production and high demand, the company had a hard time keeping up financially. So Boyardee and his brothers sold to American Home Products in 1946 in order to keep everyone employed.
11. HE STILL APPEARED IN COMMERCIALS.
Boiardi served as a consultant for the company he started until 1978. He was also the public face of the brand, and appeared in commercials, like this one from 1953.
12. THERE’S A STATUE OF HIM IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA.
It’s located just outside the headquarters of ConAgra Foods, which now owns the brand. The statue, appropriately, was kept under wraps inside a giant can shortly before its unveiling—or uncanning—in 2011. There’s also a statue of the chef outside the company’s plant in Milton.
13. THERE’S ALSO A BOOK OF FAMILY RECIPES.
Boyardee’s grand-niece, Anna Boiardi, is also a chef and an author who published a collection of actual recipes and stories handed down through the family. And no, the ingredient list doesn’t include cans of Beefaroni.