The HOSPITALITY PROFESSOR
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
Peter Bordi Jr., who grew up in a working-class family in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, said he and his two older sisters clearly remember that mom reigned over the kitchen at home while dad’s domain was in the kitchen at Pete Bordi’s, his family’s bar-restaurant in nearby Scranton. The two never crossed that line and that kept for a long-lasting marriage.
“Every day my dad would give me a kiss on the cheek and ask me, ‘What are you gonna be?’” Bordi said. “And I would reply, ‘a good person.’”
And Bordi has been living by these words his entire life. He feels it is part of his mission to always help others who may be less fortunate.
“My dad was an old-school Italian and he always made sure my sisters and I remained humble,” Bordi said. “We were taught that we were not better than anyone else.”
Bordi reminisced that his father would set up dinners every holiday for the homeless in their community. There was one caveat though; the Bordi family would cook the meal and then leave. Bordi said his father would not allow them to serve the people. He felt that it was creating a social construct of them being less than.
“They were very thankful, would always serve themselves and clean up the entire restaurant afterward,” Bordi said. “That is something I will always remember.”
From a young age, Bordi helped out around the restaurant, but he leaned toward business while at Penn State. When he asked his dad to sell him the restaurant, he flat-out refused the request.
“Dad would not sell it to me and when I asked him why, he said, ‘you can do better,’” Bordi said. “He was always pushing me to do better and be better.”
Bordi went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in food service and housing administration and an associate degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America.
“A former professor of mine, Leo Renaghan, whom I became very close with, called me up after graduating in 1976,” Bordi said. “He convinced me to get back to school and complete my master’s.”
Bordi earned the advanced degree and then went on to earn a doctorate. He accepted a position as an instructor in 1978 at Penn State and worked his way up the ladder.
“When I first got started in teaching, I was watching my peers coming back from the Vietnam War,” Bordi said. “It was an interesting time and tough to see, but everyone got through it.”
A tenured associate professor of hospitality, Bordi has worked as a researcher, a consultant for new product development and a food scientist.
Over the years, Bordi has attempted to live up to the principles his father taught him. He helped to open and run the Center for Food Innovation at Penn State for 12 years. The center is a cooperative research center that helps build relationships between the food industry and academia. One of the center’s main focuses is to help Pennsylvania food companies succeed.
In the mid-90s, Bordi was instrumental in developing a Pennsylvania school lunch program with healthier ingredients. He was awarded a USDA Farm to School grant to develop meals lower in fat for students.
While doing product development work for start-up businesses, Bordi says 90 percent of new products fail because developers don’t ask the consumer what they want and need.
“The cost of failure is much higher than the cost of hiring a consultant to run panels and tests,” Bordi said. “It’s important to know what the consumer likes in order to sell a product.”
Bordi’s parents closed the restaurant in the early 1980s and retired with friends to Port St. Lucie. Since his parents’ passings, Bordi and his wife have lived part time in Florida as he approaches retirement at Penn State.
Every morning, Bordi wakes up at 4 a.m. and walks for three hours. He said this time allows him to think and keep his heart healthy. He tries to walk around 75 miles each week and thinks up some of his best ideas while walking.
“My main focus in recent year has been to develop products with athletes in mind,” he said. “Lately, a lot of my work has been poured into Dr. Pete’s Recovery Drink.”
Bordi has been working on the protein drink for more than 12 years with former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris. The pair, who have known one another for more than 20 years, are working with the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the athletic departments at Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh and Shippensburg University.
The product is to be taken after a workout so that the body can recover from the depletion of nutrients and energy your body experiences from exercise. The goal has been to minimize soreness and injuries among athletes while accelerating muscle recovery.
“Since starting that project, I have moved on to create a new plant-based cancer recovery drink,” Bordi said. “As someone who has lived with cancer, I know how important it is to have something that will help to heal the throat and tongue and fight off cancer from returning after chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.”
Bordi has created a drink free of sugar, dairy, whey and protein as these ingredients can upset a cancer patient’s digestive system. The completely organic product contains 18 ingredients and three plant-based proteins.
“In the back of my head, I am always thinking ‘What did you do to help somebody?’” Bordi said. “That’s what I have lived by and continue to live by.”
PETER BORDI JR.
Lives In: Port St. Lucie and Lemont, Pennsylvania
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Pennsylvania State University; associate degree, Culinary Institute of America; both master’s and doctorate, Penn State
Family: Wife, Vicki; daughter, Devon, 32; and son, Peter III, 36
Hobbies: Walking, reading
Who Inspires You: “My dad. Working in his restaurant, I learned a lot about creating goals for myself and he taught me many great life lessons.”
Something most people don’t know about you: “I had a 10 p.m. curfew as a teenager and in high school I got into running, so I would run home to make it in at 10 p.m. or else dad would lock the front door.”