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  • Italian American Innovators
    How Their Inventions Make Our Daily Life Just a Little Bit Nicer
    Part 3 of 3: Chef Boyardee, Mama Celeste, Jeno's, Big Mac & Gallo
    Continued from part 2
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    Most Americans have a favorite commercial Italian food, one of America's most popular is the trademark "Chef Boyardee". The man behind the nation's leading brand of ready-to-eat spaghetti dinners, pizza, sauce and pasta, was Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant, who began as a chef's apprentice at age 11. Eventually he opened a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio and in the 1930s, began selling his pasta and sauce in cans. During World War II, Chef Boyardee (Boiardi) was the largest supplier of rations for the U.S. and Allied Forces. Yes, Virginia, there really was a "Chef Boyardee".

    Food icon, "Mama Celeste" is also for real, the industry originated with a real mama Celeste. Celeste Lizio, who came to America during the 1930s and opened a restaurant with her husband in Chicago. She founded Mama Celeste's Pizza, a line of frozen Italian foods that she later sold to Quaker Oats.

    When it comes to food and food products, it may be surprising to know that Italian American Jeno Paulucci founded another of America's favorite foods, Chun King Chow Mein, which he launched with a $2,500 loan in 1946, and sold 20 years later for $63 million in cash. He has also founded Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Luigino's Inc., a line of frozen pasta entrees, and Pasta Lovers Trattorias.

    For all those lovers of fast food, you'll be interested to know who invented McDonald's "Big Mac." The McDonald's sandwich classic was invented by Italian American Jim Delligatti owner of a McDonald's franchise in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since its introduction in 1967, more than 14 billion Big Macs have been sold, making it the most popular sandwich in the world.

    And what beverage do we Italian Americans like best with our food? A chilled glass of Gallo Chardonnay or perhaps a room temperature 1995 Gallo Sonoma Pinot Noir? We can thank the Gallo brothers, Ernest and Julio, for creating The Gallo wine industry when they took their entire savings of about $5,000, and began producing wine from the vineyards their father had owned in California when Prohibition was lifted in 1933. They made a profit of $34,000 in their first year of business and helped launch California's wine industry. Today Italian Americans own more than 100 popular wineries in the U.S.

    Part 1: Hanna-Barbera, Bank of America & The Shopping Mall
    Part 2: Jacuzzi, Barnes & Noble, Ghirardelli & Mr. Peanut

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