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Chef Boyardee was a real person

The world knows him as the jovial-looking fellow whose face has graced untold numbers of ravioli cans, but to those who knew him in life, he was Ettore “Hector” Boiardi — which is to say, Chef Boyardee was a real person. Born October 22, 1897, in Piacenza, Italy, Boiardi was working as an apprentice chef by the age of 11 and founded the company bearing his name in 1928, after he and his family settled in Cleveland. The business began because Boiardi’s restaurant there was so successful that patrons wanted to learn how to make the dishes at home, which was remarkable for the time — Italian food wasn’t nearly as well known (and beloved) as it is today. In fact, Chef Boyardee has been credited with helping to popularize the cuisine in America.

There was just one problem, though: “Boiardi” was difficult for Americans to pronounce, so his products were sold under the phonetic name of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (since simplified to its current spelling). Notably, Boiardi helped with the war effort during WWII by producing Army rations, which required keeping his factory in Milton, Pennsylvania, open 24 hours a day. By then, the company had become too big for Boiardi and his family to manage alone, so they sold it to the conglomerate Conagra in 1946. According to Boiardi’s niece, it was the only way to make sure everyone still had jobs after the war. Boiardi continued appearing in commercials until 1978, and died on June 21, 1985.

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