Jeno F. Paulucci (July 5, 1918 – November 24, 2011) was an American businessman, huckster, and entrepreneur. Paulucci started over 70 companies; among the most well-known ventures included his frozen food company, Bellisio Foods, and food products such as Pizza Rolls and the Chun King line of Chinese food. He was also involved in charity work, publishing and public speaking.
A self-described "peddler from the Iron Range", Paulucci was born in the mining town Aurora, Minnesota. Paulucci's parents, Ettore and Michelina, had recently moved from Italy and his father was a miner in one of the region's iron mines. He began his long career in the grocery industry while working for his family's small grocery store during the Great Depression. On February 8, 1947, Paulucci married Lois Mae Trepanier. They had three children together.
During the 1940s, Paulucci developed the Chun King line of canned Chinese food products. By 1962, Chun King was bringing in $30 million in annual revenue and accounted for half of all U.S. sales of prepared Chinese food. Chun King was sold to R. J. Reynolds tobacco company, in 1966 for $63 million. In 1985, Paulucci sold his Jeno's Pizza Rolls brand to the Pillsbury Company for $135 million. He later regretted selling the pizza rolls, saying, “I should’ve kept the pizza roll. It’s something that’ll damn near live forever.”  In the early 1990s, Paulucci returned to northeast Minnesota to launch Luigino's, Inc., a frozen food company specializing in Italian food such as pasta marketed under the Michelina's brand named after Paulucci's mother. Paulucci was a game show contestant on CBS's What's My Line in 1963. He was also featured on the television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach.
Paulucci started Paulucci Publications in 1979 with the launch of his magazine for Italian Americans, Attenzione. In January 1981, The New York Times reported that Paulucci’s magazine “had survived 19 issues in an area where others could not make it to six.” Leda Sanford, the magazine’s editor-in-chief and publisher, said “patience and a lot of money” was required to make the magazine succeed. Paulucci sold Attenzione to Adam Publications in January 1982. Sanford reported that Paulucci had put $6 million into the publication.
Describing himself as an "incurable entrepreneur," Paulucci advocated several innovative strategies for building small businesses. From the 1940s to the 1960s, his Chun King company attempted to "cut out the middle man" and "take advantage of waste." Paulucci preferred not to use personal money for his businesses and instead relied on public financing provided in exchange for job creation. Paulucci was also credited with building one of the first national brands of frozen pizzas and taking advantage of the growing acceptance of frozen food as a meal. Paulucci told a reporter, “Wherever there’s a microwave, I believe we should have our product.” Unlike many business owners, Paulucci was ardently pro-union and believed that the US's minimum wage should be increased.
In the 1980s, Paulucci planned and developed the master-planned community Heathrow, Florida. Since the 1980s, Paulucci owned numerous land holdings in Seminole County, Florida and was an active philanthropist in the community.
Charity and philanthropy
Paulucci was involved with numerous charitable causes. He was a prominent advocate for Italian-American issues. He founded the National Italian American Foundation in the 1970s and served as a presidential emissary to Italy. The Paulucci Space Theater, a planetarium in Hibbing, Minnesota, is named in honor of Paulucci.
Paulucci's long career was not without controversy. In 1982, Paulucci moved 1200 jobs from the Jeno's Pizza plant in Duluth, Minnesota to Jackson, Ohio. Ohio had offered Paulucci publicly financed low-interest loans. Many[who?] accused Paulucci of violating his professed commitment to northeast Minnesota during a time of economic hardships. In response to these criticisms, Paulucci told Minnesota Public Radio, "I'm a businessman, I'm not going to say oh gee, I'm a nice guy." Paulucci and his daughter began a legal battle in 2006 over guardianship of his daughter's substantial trust fund.
After his death, a significant legal battle erupted over his $100m estate.
- Obituary, Duluth News Tribune
- Amundson, Kalo. "Meet Jeno", michelinas.com, 24 May 2007.
- Finkelstein, Matt. "The Master Chef," Inc.com, November 2007.
- "At 88, Frozen Food King Still Has Plans Cooking," msnbc.com, December 27, 2006.
- Ann Meyer, "Jeno's Back in Business", Prepared Foods, January 1991.
- What's My Line at tv.com
- Dougherty, Philip H. “Advertising; Attenzione Magazine Expanding”, The New York Times, 29 January 1981.
- Dougherty, Philip H. “Advertising; Adam Publications Buys Attenzione”, The New York Times, 5 January 1982.
- Meyer, Ann. "Jeno's Back in Business," Prepared Foods, January 1991.
- "20th Century Great American Business Leaders: Jeno F. Paulucci", Harvard Business School
- Obituary, Orlando Sentinel
- Zdechlich, Mark. "The Economic War Among the States: The Pizza King and the Perils of Bidding" (transcript), Minnesota Public Radio, April 9, 1996.
- St. Anthony, Neal. "Family feud opens new front in local court," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 30 January 2006.