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Behind the scenes at Chef Boyardee

July 25, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

In Milton, Pennsylvania, UFCW Local 38 members at ConAgra work hard to make one of the iconic pantry dinners—Chef Boyardee.

The plant is the only ConAgra plant where Chef Boyardee products are made.

See for yourself

Inside the plant

Employees at the plant are members of UFCW Local 38, they can go to work knowing they have a union contract and a say in their wages and benefits.

The man behind the legend

Did you know that Chef Boyardee was a real person?

From the Chef Boyardee website: 

Hector Boiardi’s story begins in 1897 in the Northwest Italian town of Piacenza. Young Hector quickly gravitated toward the hospitality industry. By age 11, he was working as an apprentice chef at a hotel in his hometown. Like many early 20th century Europeans, Hector made his way to America, arriving at New York’s Ellis Island in 1914.

Hector had little trouble finding work. He joined the culinary staff at New York’s ritzy Plaza Hotel, where the following year he became head chef. Chef Hector also earned work at The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, where he oversaw catering for the wedding reception of President Woodrow Wilson.

So how did a young chef go from cooking for a U.S. president to creating what we now know as Chef Boyardee?

Like many young chefs, Hector Boiardi dreamed of owning his own restaurant. With the help of his wife, Helen, Hector’s restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia, opened its doors in 1924, in Cleveland. The name means “Garden of Italy,” and Chef Hector’s garden was quickly in full bloom with lines that stretched out the door!

Chef Hector’s delicious pasta dishes were so popular among patrons that they began asking for his recipes. Chef Hector had a better idea. Why not sell a take-home version of his delicious dishes? He began cleaning milk bottles and filling them with his pasta sauce, accompanied by uncooked pasta so that patrons could enjoy his food at home. From these humble beginnings came the Chef Boyardee pasta dishes still enjoyed today.

Chef Hector realized he had a winning business proposition with an opportunity to serve not just the customers of his Cleveland restaurant. Hector teamed up with his brothers Mario and Paul to found the Chef Boyardee company, using a phonetic spelling of the family’s last name to make it easier to pronounce. By the late 1930s, Hector was headed east to set up his kitchen in Milton, Pennsylvania, which remains the home of Chef Boyardee today.

Although Il Giardino d’Italia has long-since closed its doors, the pasta dishes first served there remain classics of Italian-American cuisine. With delicious meat, pasta and sauce and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, they’re sure to remain family favorites for years to come.

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