Birthday: October 22, 1897
Nationality: American, Italian
Died At Age: 87
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Hector Boyardee
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Piacenza, Italy
Famous as: Chef, Restaurateur
Spouse/Ex-: Helen J. Boiardi (m. 1921)
children: Mario Boiardi
Died on: June 21, 1985
place of death: Parma, Ohio, United States
Cause of Death: Natural Causes
Ettore Boiardi, or Hector Boyardee, was an Italian-American chef who set up his own packaged food business named Chef Boyardee. Beginning his career as a kitchen helper, he worked hard to eventually become the head chef of the Plaza Hotel in New York City within a few years. He also successfully catered a presidential wedding in the United States, taking charge of the wedding reception party of President Woodrow Wilson’s second marriage to Edith Bolling in 1915. Boiardi opened his own restaurant, ‘Il Giardino d'Italia’, at the age of 29 in Cleveland. It became one of the most popular eateries in the city. By the end of the 1930s, Boiardi along with the patrons of his restaurant had established the brand “Chef Boiardi” for selling his packaged signature pasta products. He soon realized that his non-Italian customers and salesmen struggled with the pronunciation of his last name and decided to change his brand name to "Chef Boyardee.” During World War II, the US military contacted Boiardi’s company for their army rations. The legendary chef later sold his company to American Home Foods in a multi-million-dollar deal.
Childhood & Early Life
Ettore Boiardi was born on October 22, 1897, in Piacenza, Italy, to Maria Maffi Boiardi and Giuseppe Boiardi. From a very early age, he started taking an interest in cooking.
By the time he turned eleven, Boiardi had started working in a local restaurant named La Croce Bianca where he learned the basics of the business. He was recruited as a support staff member in the kitchen. His tasks included cutting vegetables and dealing with other non-cooking work.
Soon, he travelled to London and Paris where he worked in multiple restaurants learning more about the food industry.
After spending a few years in Europe, Boiardi landed in New York at the age of 16. He started working with his brother in the city.
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Restaurant & Catering
Ettore Boiardi got a chance to work in the Plaza Hotel in New York City with his brother Paolo Boiardi. Reportedly, it didn’t take him long before he became the head chef in the luxury hotel.
Boiardi was put in charge of a dinner party hosted by the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson. The president was highly impressed by the chef’s work. When Wilson got married to Edith Bolling in 1915, the reception dinner ceremony of the wedding was commissioned to Boiardi.
In 1926, Ettore Boiardi opened his first restaurant with his wife’s support. The restaurant was opened at East 9th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland. It was called ‘Il Giardino d'Italia’ (which translates to ‘The Garden of Italy’ in English).
Despite the restaurant being a new one in the neighborhood, Boiardi’s growing reputation and signature dishes made it one of the most popular diners in the city in no time.
Packaged Food Business
While running his restaurant, Ettore Boiardi met his two future patrons, Maurice Weiner and Eva Weiner, who helped him develop a process for canning the food for sale. Eventually, they encouraged him to start a business that would allow more people to enjoy his popular foods.
Boiardi along with his brother Paolo set up his own packaged food business to sell a variety of Boiardi’s signature pastas and sauces.
The brothers then formed a partnership with a wholesale company which helped them reach every corner of the country’s canned food market. The nationwide distribution gained pace very quickly and they had to open a factory to keep up with the demand.
Following the success of its canned pastas and sauces, the company came up with a new idea. Their next product was a complete package of a pasta meal which included a box of spaghetti, parmesan cheese, and a jar of pasta sauce, all packed in a single plastic pack.
Initially, a large portion of the raw material, including the parmesan cheese and the olive oil, was being imported from Italy. With the growing demand for the products, Ettore Boiardi decided to shift the base to a place where he could grow large quantities of tomatoes.
The company then shifted to Milton, Pennsylvania. The new location was capable of producing over 20,000 tons of tomatoes alongside mushrooms for the company.
The company was commissioned by the US military for their ration supply during World War II. They had to keep production open for 24 hours each day. Boiardi received a Gold Star order of excellence medal from the United States War Department for his services to the US military and its allies during World War II.
A few hurdles in the future saw the company being sold to American Home Foods for a price of around 6 million USD. Ettore Boiardi continued to appear in a commercial for the company and still developed new Italian food items for the growing market.
Family & Personal Life
In 1921, Ettore Boiardi married Helen J. Boiardi, who contributed in many ways in his journey as a chef and an entrepreneur. Together, the couple had a son named Mario Boiardi.
On June 21, 1985, Boiardi died of natural causes and his body was put to rest in the All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.