The Story Behind Chef Boyardee

Everyone's familiar with the mustachioed chef on the canned pasta, but was Chef Boyardee a real person?

When the young Ettore Boiardi immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in 1914, he had no idea what was in store for him. A natural in the kitchen, Ettore passed through Ellis Island, changed his name from Ettore to Hector and immediately landed work in the restaurant industry. Following his brother, Lorenzo, to the kitchens of the New York City Plaza Hotel, Chef Boiardi eventually worked his way to head chef at the Plaza. Before the age of 20, Chef Boiardi supervised catering for President Woodrow Wilson's wedding reception.

Chef Boiardi eventually made his way to Ohio, where he opened a restaurant with his wife Helen. The Il Giardino d'Italia opened in 1924 and created a buzz in the city of Cleveland. Patrons would wait outside for hours at a time to simply get a taste of his signature specialty spaghetti and meatballs. His Italian creations caused such a stir, customers began asking for his recipes. Boiardi started packing up and selling his product in old milk bottles. Little did he know that this idea would soon take off and become the start of a food empire.

In 1928, in order to keep up with customer demands, Boiardi started a factory with his brothers and eventually began to can his food. To make his product more consumer-friendly, he changed the spelling of his name to Boyardee. With a passion for using only the freshest ingredients, it's said that Boiardi grew and used his own mushrooms in his packaged goods. He is also credited with creating a meatball-making machine, which is still used to this day.

Booming business led to a shift in factory plans, and the Boyardee Bros. eventually changed their location to Milton, Pennsylvania, which gave them better access to farmland and juicy, supple tomatoes.

In 1946, Chef Boyardee sold his company for $6 million, staying on as a consultant until 1978, when he eventually retired.

There is much more to the man behind the brand! Check out our slideshow above for more about Chef Boyardee.

To learn more stories behind classic foods, check out The Story Behind The Banana Split, The Story Behind Granola and The Story Behind General Tso's Chicken.