Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself...
Covid-19 has decided it will not be taking a summer vacation this year. And neither will most of us. Many of our newfound habits of the past several months will continue, including ransacking grocery shelves and eating in our homes. Packaged foods purchases were up 87% in March, and continue the streak into the summer, up 20% YOY in June. This has also led to the reacquainting of shoppers with old friends, such as “Hector” Boiardi, Clarence Birdseye, Little Debbie, and Phil Sallomi (OK, maybe you don’t know Phil, but you will after reading this), to name a few.
Ettori “Hector” Boiardi, AKA, Chef Boyardee, was indeed a chef. As head chef of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York, Chef Bioardi was responsible for cooking the homecoming meal for returning WWI soldiers at Woodrow Wilson's White House reception. He later moved to Cleveland, where he opened his own Italian restaurant in 1926. Chef Boiardi’s patrons, constantly requesting a jar of his tomato sauce to take home, persuaded him to clean out old milk bottles and fill them with his soon to be famous recipe. Old milk bottles led to cans, which led to “pasta at home kits” containing dry spaghetti to cook and a can of tomato sauce. It wasn’t long before Chef Boiardi became “Chef Boyardee”, and offered the convenience of a full Italian spaghetti and sauce meal in a can.
In 1945 returning WWII veteran Philip Sollomi opened a restaurant, The Wish-Bone, where he served up his famous fried chicken. But more important than the chicken was the salad he served with his mother’s Sicilian Italian dressing. It wasn’t long before Sollomi, like Boiardi, had customers asking to take home a bottle of his family recipe Italian dressing. Within 10 years Sollomi had gained such a wide following, he received an offer from Lipton Foods to buy his recipe for mass production, and national distribution. Sollomi sold his recipe, and his mothers dressing became “America’s #1 Italian Dressing” for decades.
You can still find Wish-Bone, Chef Boyardee, and Birdseye brands on your grocery shelves, as well as name brands such as Duncan Hines (a salesman who wrote restaurant reviews as he traveled the country), Marie Calendar (a mother, baker, and later entrepreneur), Vlasic (named after Joe Vlasic, who started pickling cucumbers during WWII), Little Debbie (granddaughter of the McKees who sold pre-made cakes out of their car), and Oscar Mayer (a German meat market owner who started an industry wide trend to brand meats), to name just a few.
So, as you are getting reacquainted with some grocery aisle nostalgia during these Covid-19 times, take a break for Netflix and throw a brand name in a google search, and get to meet the person, and the history, behind the food.