Many people actually thought he was French. And his product has been scoffed and even derided by more than a few Italian Americans. But Ettore Boiardi was a visionary who introduced quickly-prepared Italian style food to millions who might not otherwise have known about it or tasted it.
Yes, Chef Boyardee, the man behind the nation’s leading brand of spaghetti dinners, pizza mix, sauce and pasta, was really Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant from Emilia Romagna. Boiardi was born in Piacenza, Italy in 1897, to Giuseppe and Maria Boiardi. On May 9, 1914, at the age of 16, he arrived at Ellis Island. Boiardi followed his brother, Lorenzo, to the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, working his way up to head chef. While working at the Greenbrier Hotel in Greenbrier West Virginia, he directed the catering for the reception of President Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding.
His entrepreneurial skill became polished and well known when he opened his first restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia, whose name translated 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 for them.