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Outback co-founder Chris Sullivan donates $5M to Moffitt Cancer Center

Chris Sullivan will have an atrium at a Moffitt facility named in his honor.
Chris Sullivan will have an atrium at a Moffitt facility named in his honor.
Published Dec. 3, 2013

TAMPA — A key developer behind launching Outback Steakhouse has given $5 million to Moffitt Cancer Center, the hospital said Monday.

Chris Sullivan, co-founder of the iconic steak restaurant and its parent company, Bloomin' Brands, donated the money to help in the development of cutting-edge melanoma therapies, according to Moffitt officials.

The money will support Moffitt's Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence, established in 2008, where researchers are sequencing the human genome to create personalized skin cancer treatments.

"We've been working with Mr. Sullivan for quite a long time," said Moffitt spokeswoman Suzanne Grant. "He's been a longtime friend of Moffitt Cancer Center, which we appreciate. This $5 million donation is really important to us. It's a very generous gift. We have a very unique melanoma research program, and this will really help further our research."

Moffitt hosted a private reception Nov. 19 to celebrate the donation. At the party, officials announced that the atrium of Moffitt's new McKinley campus outpatient facility will be called the Chris Sullivan Family Atrium.

Sullivan is now a partner at MVP Holdings, the company behind the Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant chain, as well as PDQ and Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar. A spokeswoman for the company said Sullivan was traveling Monday and couldn't be reached for comment.

Sullivan, a Florida native, recently announced plans with partners to open the first Glory Days Grill in Tampa, a sports-themed family restaurant with 20 locations north of Florida.

He has been involved with charity work in the past, including an effort to raise funds for the United Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania. In 2005, Sullivan and his family gave $2.5 million to the Pepin Heart Hospital and Dr. Kiran C. Patel Research Institute at University Community Hospital. And Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am golf tournaments have raised money for All Children's Hospital, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, as well as spinal muscular atrophy and Friedreich's ataxia research.

In 2010, Sullivan's daughter was undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, inspiring a group of 20 businessmen to shave their heads to raise funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

Moffitt officials declined to disclose Sullivan's past donations to the center.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for people 25 to 29 years old, and is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Moffitt's research with DNA sequencing on melanoma tumors has led to multiple clinical trials with positive results for patients. It is one of only three centers in the United States to do this kind of work, Moffitt officials said.

"The hope is that we'll be able to use this donation to further that research right here in Tampa Bay and address the need for our community, as well as the world," Grant said.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394.

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