The old jingle said, “Thank goodness for Chef Boyardee.”

Indeed.

Along with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning products, the best seller in grocery stores these days is Chef Boyardee.

Sales of the canned pasta are up a staggering 148% over last year.

Cans of the delicious ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, and (my particular favorite) beefaroni have been flying off the shelves so fast, we can barely keep the items in stock between trucks.

So, just who was Chef Boyardee, anyway?

Hector Boiardi was an Italian immigrant who was the head chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in the early 1900s. In 1924, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio and opened his own restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia, with the same recipes he’d been cooking at the Plaza.

Customers began to ask Boiardi for his spaghetti sauce. He would distribute it in milk bottles.  Four years later, in 1928, he opened a factory to distribute his recipe. He decided to set up shop in Milton, Pennsylvania, where he could grow his own tomatoes and mushrooms.

It was in Milton he named his product “Boy-Ar-Dee,” to make sure his name got pronounced properly.

Boiardi moved beyond his original item and created the first ready-to-heat spaghetti kit. The box included uncooked pasta, the famous sauce and a container of pre-grated cheese.

By the time of World War II, Chef Boyardee produced Army rations 24 hours a day, with 5,000 employees putting out a quarter-million cans each day. When the war ended, however, he was faced with firing all the people he’d hired or selling his company.

Chef Boyardee was purchased by American Home Products in 1946, retaining the chef himself as the company spokesperson for the next 30 years. ConAgra has owned Chef Boyardee products since 1996.

ConAgra’s stock is up 35% this month.

So, as everything closed, customers got pushed out of restaurants and into their homes where they soon decided, because the grocery store was the last place that seemed somewhat normal, they would have to stock up on items they knew were good.

Over the past two months, I’ve seen customers looking for everything from soup to salad dressing, from crackers to coffee and everything in between. But one thing shows up in nearly everybody’s buggy.

Thank goodness for Chef Boyardee!

 

Michael Bird is a music teacher for Tallassee City Schools and a weekly columnist for The Tribune.