The Van Trump Report

The “Chef Boyardee” Story

Born Ettore Hector Boiardi, Chef Boyardee was a real man and a real chef who passed on this day in 1985. For years many people in the food space claimed that “Boyardee” was a fictional character brainstormed by a combination of three top food company executives named Boyd, Art, and Dennis. But that was not the case, in fact, Boyardee’s passion for cooking as well as learning about the restaurant business began early, as an eleven-year-old, and didn’t stop throughout his entire career as a chef, business owner and American Icon during the 20th century.

After immigrating from Italy to the U.S. in 1913 at the age of 16, Boyardee joined his brother Paolo on the kitchen staff at the prestigious Plaza Hotel in New York. It didn’t take him any time to move up the ranks and become head-chef. His notoriety grew as he was commissioned with catering the presidential wedding reception party for Woodrow Wilson in 1915 at the Greenbrier Resort. And in 1926 Boyardee opened his first restaurant at East 9th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, OH. Despite the restaurant being new in the neighborhood, Boyardee’s growing reputation and signature dishes quickly made it one of the most popular diners in the city.

It didn’t take long for customers to start asking Chef Boyardee for his spaghetti sauce recipe. So, like any good entrepreneur with a little marketing savvy, he thought of an idea where he would fill old milk bottles with his sauce and give them to customers to take home. Eventually, he started charging his customers a small amount for take-out orders of uncooked pasta, cheese, and his wildly popular sauce. Boyardee definitely understood what it took to become successful as he and his wife used every free minute away from the restaurant filling milk bottles with sauce in his loft apartment.

Call it fate, luck, or the result of all the years of hard work, but in 1927 Boyardee met a couple named Maurice and Eva Weiner, restaurant regulars that owned a chain of grocery stores. One night they all got together and figured out that if they could make enough of this spaghetti and meatballs and preserve it in a way that had shelf-life they stood a chance at building something big. 

The group knew they would need much larger facilities and somewhere they could easily sources the freshest and highest quality ingredients that were being used to make the sauce and pasta so they picked Milton, PA due to the availability and quality of tomatoes and mushrooms in that area as well as the availability of transportation and trucking that would be needed to ship nationwide.

Once their process was perfected, cans and market shelves began filling with Boyardee’s pasta and sauces, first regionally then nation-wide. The products were an instant hit and sold out just as fast as they could make them. 

WWII began and Chef Boyardee’s role and contribution to America became even larger, with his plant being asked to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with production demands for military rations. When they weren’t busy with production, Chef Boyardee employees could be seen marching through the streets of Milton, PA during patriotic parades that inspired wartime support. Banners that read “Keep ’em flying! Keep ’em rolling! Keep ’em well-fed!” conveyed the pride the employees took in their critical role. At its peak, the company employed approximately 5,000 workers and produced 250,000 cans per day.

By the time the war ended in 1945, the efforts of everyone at Chef Boyardee had not gone unnoticed. In 1946 employees gathered for a celebration as Boyardee was awarded “The Gold Star”, one of the highest honors a civilian can receive, in honor of his company’s wartime efforts and going above and beyond.
Sadly, once the war fully ended Boyardee was faced with a few tough decisions. If he wanted to keep all of the wartime employees he had hired, which was his main objective, he would either have to find a way to massively expand his reach or sell his business to a much larger company. He knew he didn’t want to layoff all of the workers he had hired to help with the war efforts but at the same time he didn’t feel he had enough money to carry the operation as he tried to gain more market share so he sold the company to American Home Foods in 1946 for a whopping $6 million, and remained as a spokesman and consultant for the brand until 1978.     

American Home Foods turned its food division into International Home Foods in 1996. Four years later, International Home Foods was purchased by ConAgra Foods, which continues to produce Chef Boyardee canned pastas bearing Boyardee’s famous face. Chef Boyardee continues to be a staple in many homes and I suspect most of us can remember the warm bowls of Chef Boyardee that mom served at lunch with our favorite drink. I might even remember eating some Chef Boyardee ravioli straight out of the can! (Source: foodimentary, thefamouspeople,

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