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Boiardi, Helen (1905–1995)

Boiardi, Helen (1905–1995)

Italian-American businesswoman who founded Chef Boyardee with her husband Hector Boiardi. Born in 1905; died in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in July 1995; married Hector Boiardi (1898–1985); children: son, Mario.

By any criterion, the careers of hardworking Italian-Americans Helen and Hector Boiardi make for an American success story. They arrived in the United States as impoverished immigrants, full of hope and ambition. Hector had learned about cooking as an apprentice in an Italian hotel at age 11, while Helen, as an Italian woman raised in a traditional culture, had learned cooking at an early age. In America, they quickly saw that many Americans who had been raised on English, Irish, and German food were delighted by Italian cooking once introduced to it. By the mid-1920s, the Boiardis were running a successful Italian restaurant in the financial district of Cleveland, Ohio.

Their menu was so popular that many patrons asked for pasta, sauce and cheese to take home, and the growing popularity of their take-out food prompted the couple to go into the packaged-food business in 1928, calling the new company Chef Boiardi. When it soon became obvious that many customers—even some of the company's dealers—were having difficulty pronouncing the name Boiardi, Hector and Helen put sales above family pride and changed the company name to the phonetic "Chef Boyardee." The name change, along with the introduction of the picture of a smiling Italian chef on the label, greatly enhanced sales.

By the late 1930s, the Chef Boyardee label could be seen in grocery stores from coast to coast as Americans enjoyed Italian food at home when many could not afford to eat out. In 1946, the Boiardis sold the company to American Home Food Products, a subsidiary of American Home Products. Hector Boiardi served as a consultant to American Home Foods until 1978 and died in 1985. Helen Boardi advised her husband informally but with vigor, and spent the final decades of her life involved in community and family affairs. After her death in July 1995, Chef Boyardee Italian foods remained in the marketplace.

sources:

Di Stasi, Lawrence. "The Face that Made Spaghetti Famous," in Lawrence Di Stasi, ed. Dream Streets: The Big Book of Italian-American Culture. NY: Harper & Row, 1989, pp. 72–73.

"Hector Boiardi, 87, Is Dead; Founder of Chef Boy-ardee," in The New York Times Biographical Service. June 1985, p. 729.

"Helen J. Boiardi, 90; Started Line of Pasta," in The New York Times Biographical Service. July 1995, p. 967.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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