During recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice that have now spread across the world, demonstrators have been topping statues that represent historical figures who are deemed to be racist. genocide or otherwise problematic. The many statues of Christopher Columbus that are scattered across the United States have become some of the primary targets for demonstrators. In some cases, these statues are toppled during protests, but in others, activists have made attempts to take them down through legal means. Occasionally, activists have been successful in their attempts to petition local governments to remove or replace statutes.
In Cleveland, Ohio, a petition is now circulating to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood, with a statue of Ettore Boiardi, the real-life inspiration for Chef Boyardee. The petition called attention to Italian-Americans, who in some cases are quick to defend the Columbus legacy because they see it as a part of their heritage. The drafters of the petition believe that Chef Boyardee is a historical figure that they can actually be proud of.
The petition states: “Columbus is not someone we should celebrate. He was a racist monster who initiated the genocide against indigenous Americans. If Italian-Americans in Cleveland want to celebrate one of their own, they need look no further than the iconic Ettore (Hector) Boiardi, AKA Chef Boyardee. It’s time for Cleveland to tear down its statue to a genocidal sociopath with a bowl cut and erect a statue to an immigrant success story who enriched our community with his food and iconic mustache,” the petition states.
Boiardi opened his first restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia, whose name translates as “The Garden of Italy”, at East 9th Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, in 1926. The patrons of Il Giardino d’Italia frequently asked for samples and recipes of his spaghetti sauce, so he filled cleaned milk bottles.
In 1927, Boiardi met Maurice and Eva Weiner who were patrons of his restaurant and owners of a local self-service grocery store chain. The Weiners helped the Boiardi brothers develop a process for canning the food at scale. They also procured distribution across the United States through their grocery’s wholesale partners. Boiardi’s product was soon being stocked in markets everywhere. The company became so successful that they had to open a factory in 1928 to meet the demands of national distribution.
After sauce, their next product was closer to a complete pasta meal, including a canister of grated Parmesan cheese, a box of spaghetti, and a jar of pasta sauce, held together in cellophane plastic wrap. By then, the company was the largest importer of Italian Parmesan cheese, while also buying tons of olive oil, according to niece Anna Boiardi.
Boiardi sold his products under the phonetic brand name “Chef Boy-Ar-Dee” because most Americans could not figure out how to pronounce his name, even his own salespeople. He was once quoted as saying that “everyone is proud of his own family name, but sacrifices are necessary for progress”.