Ettore Boiardi was an Italian chef who owned restaurants in New York City and Cleveland. The brand name was changed to Boy-ar-dee so customers would have an easier time pronouncing it.
Similarly to Colonel Sanders, Chef Boyardee was a real person, and he did create the business that shares his name.
Ettore Boiardi was born in Piacenza, Italy in 1897. In his early life, he worked at restaurants in Italy, France, and England before moving to the United States at the age of 16 (1914).
He worked in the kitchens of multiple hotels (the Plaza Hotel in New York City and the Hotel Winton in Cleveland), before starting his own restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia in Cleveland in 1926.
The restaurant was very popular, and customers soon wanted the ability to make Boiardi’s amazing recipes at home. He began sending patrons home with take-out kits and cooking instructions.
Not long after, Boiardi realized that he was making quite a lot of money from these kits. The chef saw an opportunity to grow the business massively by producing his pasta en masse.
A couple of the chef’s regular patrons who owned a local grocery store chain helped him design a canning process and find a national distributor. To meet the growing demand, Boiardi and his brothers built a small processing plant and launched the Chef Boiardi Food Company in 1928. The company’s first product was a pre-packaged spaghetti dinner in a carton that included a canister of grated parmesan cheese, a box of spaghetti and a large jar of spaghetti sauce.
Since American consumers had trouble pronouncing Boiardi’s name, he decided to rename the brand Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, so it would be easier to pronounce.
The company was able to expand production even more during World War II, when they were forced to produce Army rations. Soon after, Etorre Boiardi sold the company for around $6 million, and the company has continued its success since then.
ConAgra Foods bought International Home Foods Inc. the makers of Chef Boyardee products and other brands in 2000 for $1.6 billion.