Medicine: Dr. Hustle

For nearly two decades, Temple University cancer researcher Antonio Giordano has been at the forefront of new discoveries. Why did he have to partner with a fast-food company to make it happen?

On the face of it, nothing appeared to be unusual: two men going for a Sunday-morning walk, deep in conversation. Every Sunday, they’d meet up on Long Island — near the older man’s home — and talk, although the conversation was one-sided. The younger man dominated it. He appeared to be trying to convince the older man of something. It must have been very important — the walks and conversations went on for an entire year, every Sunday morning. In fact, the younger man drove all the way up to Long Island from Philadelphia to have them.

The younger man — Antonio Giordano — was a doctor. He grew up in Italy, and studied there. Now he was a cancer researcher at Thomas Jefferson University, beginning to do important work. The other man — Mario Sbarro — was CEO of the eponymously named fast-food franchiser. Sbarro was a fellow Neapolitan, and Giordano appealed to their shared heritage. He needed money. Funding for research can be hard to come by. So for a whole year, back in the early ’90s, the cancer researcher came to beg the king of bad turnpike pizza: Please.

He needed money to build a lab where scientists from America, Italy and elsewhere could pursue their research. He promised that every Sbarro dime would go to research, not to buildings or bureaucracy or red tape.

At last, after a year of Giordano working him, Sbarro made his call. He didn’t completely understand what Giordano wanted to do, but okay. In exchange for giving almost $1 million to launch the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research, Sbarro had a single request: “Please, Antonio,” he pleaded. “No more walks.”