Chef Boyardee was a real person.
Source: Original photo by Sipa USA/ Alamy Stock Photo
Next Fact

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.

Betty Crocker is also based on a real person.
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It's a Fib
Unlike Sara Lee, Little Debbie, and Jimmy Dean, Betty Crocker was completely made up. The Washburn Crosby Company, a forerunner to General Mills, tasked Marjorie Husted with personalizing its products by creating a mascot. She chose the name because it sounded “warm and friendly.”

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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Numbers Don’t Lie
Tons of pasta produced by Italy every year
3.9 million
Estimated number of pasta shapes
Annual revenue of Chef Boyardee’s parent company in 2023
$12 billion
Pounds of pasta eaten by the average Italian in a year
Ettore Boiardi catered President _______’s second wedding.
Ettore Boiardi catered President Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding.
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Think Twice
Chef Boyardee was referenced in an episode of "Seinfeld" — and didn’t like it.

In addition to all the made-up companies and products mentioned on Seinfeld (like Vandelay Industries), a number of real-life brands played prominent roles as well: Jujyfruit, Junior Mint, and even Levi's Dockers pants. According to Glenn Padnick, then an executive at Castle Rock Television, the only brand that ever asked to be removed from an episode was Chef Boyardee. The would-be reference came in “The Rye,” the 11th episode of the seventh season, in which Kramer was supposed to feed Beefaroni to a horse — an ill-advised snack that resulted in flatulence. The name was changed to Beef-A-Reeno instead.

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