Pizza rolls: They're one of the foods you either love or hate. They're like miniature Stromboli, or a tiny piece of pizza wrapped up inside of itself. They're microwavable, cheap in cost and low on nutrition, all qualities that make them an ideal snack. The man credited with bringing pizza rolls to the masses, Jeno Paulucci, died on Thanksgiving - November 24, 2011, a fitting date for a man who made his fortune in food.
Paulucci was a hardworking businessman, according to the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal; a title his Italian immigrant parents would have likely been proud of. He earned his high school degree in Duluth and promptly got a job working at a local grocery store - a starter job that many are familiar with. One has to wonder if Paulucci ever dreamed of the success he would have later in life.
The Duluth News Tribune reports that Paulucci became a travelling salesman for the company, and was soon earning more money than the company's owner. Like a tumbleweed, Paulucci wasn't happy being tied to just one job and soon moved on to more profitable endeavors. It's rare that one can follow their passion and have equally as many - if not more - successes than failures. What was Paulucci's key to success?
Paulucci founded his first business, Chun Foods, at the tender age of 26. The company, which sold canned Chinese food, was an immediate success. Chun Foods grew in popularity for 22 years before Paulucci sold it to R.J. Reynolds for an estimated $63 million. Just two years later, in 1968, he would become R.J. Reynolds' first chairman.
Perhaps Paulucci heard a call back to his entrepreneurial roots, because he soon dropped his position at R.J. Reynolds to open Jeno's Inc. It's here that Paulucci's story really picks up, because Jeno's Inc. was the first brand to ever sell the delicious, flavor-packed treats known as pizza rolls. Jeno's sold to Pillsbury Inc. in 1985 for $135 million. That's a lot of pizza rolls.
Aside from being one of Duluth's top employers, Paulucci "was a fantastic husband, and a wonderful, wonderful father," according to his daughter Cindy Paulucci Selton. He seemed like the kind of person who had a heart warm enough to cook pizza roll snacks - everyone interviewed about him had nothing but great things to say.
In 1992, after a spectacular stint in Flordia real estate, Paulucci founded Luigino's Inc - a competitor to Pillsbury that sold microwaveable meals and snacks, including his trademark pizza rolls. The company was later re-named Michelina's Inc, after his mother. Paulucci continued working with the company until 2004, when at the age of 86 he went into semi-retirement.
This was a man with a professed net worth of over half a billion dollars, and he earned it himself through a series of smart business decisions and a lot of hard work. Paulucci was the epitome of the American dream and had a work ethic that one rarely sees today. It's astounding to think that he continued his operations well into his golden years without nary a complaint.
Paulucci was preceeded in death by his wife of 64 years, Lois. Like the other incredible aspects of his story, Paulucci and Lois shared a love that was timeless. When she passed away just four days before Thanksgiving, he was determined to be with her. Although his official cause of death was not released, one can easily conclude that Paulucci died of heartbreak. According to KDAL610.com, funeral plans are pending.