Chef Boy-ar-dee

I thought today we would spice things up with one of more interesting (I think) Cleveland stories of all time. It is the true story of Chef Hector (Ettore) Boiardi. You know the chap whose face still peers at you from the Chef Boyardee can as you dig into a hot bowl of ravioli. His good looking image is below.

This photo provided courtesy of the Cleveland Press Archives.

The good chef was born in Italy, I believe in 1897, and at the age of 16 found his way to New York City. He quickly became a chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York and worked at The Greenbrier in West Virginia as well. His culinary talents were legendary. Chef Boiardi accepted the job as head chef at the Hotel Winton in 1917 which happened to be a popular hotel in Cleveland. This magnificent hotel was located at 1012 Prospect Avenue. The Hotel Winton was a well-know hotel on a national level and held one of the first radio programs that was broadcast out of the Hotel’s famous Rainbow Room featuring the Rainbow Room Orchestra. (There were even “ice shows” at the Winton – where a large ice rink would be built in a restaurant and as patrons ate there would be a number of ice skaters to entertain.) Today, we know it as the Carter Manor which serves as housing for the elderly.

This photo provided courtesy of the Cleveland Press Archives.

As the Head Chef at the Winton, Boiardi began serving a lot of Italian fare. And his spaghetti dinners were becoming all the rage. Many of his patrons would ask for his recipes (which were not forthcoming from the Chef) and for samples to take home (which he sold in abundance). He would often provide his spaghetti sauce in milk bottles. In 1924, the good chef started his own restaurant the famous Giardino d’Italia. By 1928, take-out orders were so robust that Boiardi started factory production of his products. What was once a local, then regional, delicacy was now a national phenomenon and this prompted the change to the now signature Chef Boy-ar-dee. In 1938, Boiardi moved the factory to Milton, PA (I have actually heard a number of rumors that suggest a rift between the budding entrepreneur and local leaders which prompted him to move the factory).

However, Boiardi kept interests in Cleveland too with the opening of Boiardi’s, a new Italian restaurant, in 1931. He sold the factory operations after WWII and invested in the Milton Steel Company which he sold for a hefty profit. Amazingly, Boiardi died in Parma, OH in 1985! Few people believe me when I say that Chef Boyardee got its start in Cleveland. But it’s true.