Ettore Boiardi as shown in a 1953 television commercial
October 22, 1897
|Died||June 21, 1985 (aged 87)|
|Resting place||All Souls Cemetery,|
Chardon, Ohio, U.S.
|Known for||Chef Boyardee foods|
|Net worth||$60 million|
|Spouse(s)||Helen J. Boiardi (1921–1985); (his death)|
Ettore Boiardi (October 22, 1897 – June 21, 1985), better known by the Anglicized name Hector Boyardee, was an Italian-American chef, famous for his eponymous brand of food products, named Chef Boyardee.
Boiardi was born in Piacenza, Italy, in 1897, to Giuseppe and Maria Maffi Boiardi. Already at the age of 11, he was working as an apprentice chef at the local "La Croce Bianca" restaurant, although his duties were confined to non-cooking odd jobs such as potato peeling and dealing with the trash. He later learned more restaurant skills as an immigrant in Paris and London. On May 9, 1914, at the age of 16, he arrived at Ellis Island aboard La Lorraine, a ship of French registration.
Boiardi followed his brother Paolo to the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, working his way up to head chef. He supervised the preparation of the homecoming meal served by Woodrow Wilson at the White House for 2,000 returning World War I soldiers. His entrepreneurial skill became polished and well known when he opened his first restaurant, Il Giardino d'Italia, whose name translates as "The Garden of Italy", at East 9th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, in 1926. The patrons of Il Giardino d'Italia frequently asked for samples and recipes of his spaghetti sauce, so he filled cleaned milk bottles.
In 1927, Boiardi met Maurice and Eva Weiner who were patrons of his restaurant and owners of a local self-service grocery store chain. The Weiners helped the Boiardi brothers develop a process for canning the food at scale. They also procured distribution across the United States through their grocery's wholesale partners. Boiardi's product was soon being stocked in markets everywhere – the company had to open a factory in 1928 to meet the demands of national distribution. After sauce, their next product was closer to a complete pasta meal, including a canister of grated Parmesan cheese, a box of spaghetti, and a jar of pasta sauce, held together in cellophane plastic wrap. Already then, the company was the largest importer of Italian Parmesan cheese, while also buying tons of olive oil, according to niece Anna Boiardi. Touting the low cost of spaghetti products as a good choice to serve to the entire family, Boiardi introduced his product to the public in 1929. In 1938, production was moved to Milton, Pennsylvania, where they could grow enough tomatoes to serve the factory's needs, which reached 20,000 tons of tomatoes per season at peak production; they also began growing their own mushrooms on location in the plant. Boiardi sold his products under the brand name "Chef Boy-Ar-Dee" because non-Italians could not manage the pronunciation, including his own sales force: he was quoted as saying that "everyone is proud of his own family name, but sacrifices are necessary for progress".
After struggling with cash flow, compounded by internal family struggles over the ownership and direction of the company in managing rapid internal growth, he sold his brand to American Home Foods, later International Home Foods, for about $5.96 million. Investing the funds in steel mills to produce goods for the Korean War was, in hindsight, an unwise business decision, amid a nationalization and privatization argument. Both steel mills and the government wanted ownership of the steel industry during war production. Boiardi lost money after arguing with the War Department over compensation for the wear and tear on the steel mills. Nonetheless, the American Home investment became profitable, because Chef Boy-Ar-Dee became the leading canned food brand name in the US market.
Boiardi appeared in many print advertisements and television commercials for his brand in the 1940s through the 1960s. His last appearance in a television commercial promoting the brand aired in 1979. Boiardi continued developing new Italian food products for the American market until his death in 1985, at which time the Chef Boyardee line was grossing $500 million per year for International Home Foods. Surviving commercials with Boiardi from 1953 are on most Kinescopes of the US soap opera Love of Life from that year.
Boiardi died of natural causes on June 21, 1985, at age 87 in his home of Parma, Ohio, survived by his wife Helen and son Mario. He had two grandchildren. He is buried at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon Township, Ohio.
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Hector Boiardi, founder of Chef Boy-ar-dee Foods, one of the first packaged Italian food businesses in the nation, died Friday night after a short illness. He was 87 years old." "His company was first called Chef Boiardi, but Mr. Boiardi found that customers and salesmen had difficulty pronouncing his name, so he changed the brand name to the phonetic spelling, 'Boy-ar-dee.'" "He came to the United States in 1917 and worked at hotels in New York and Greenbrier, W.Va., where he directed the catering at the reception for President Woodrow Wilson's second marriage
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