Date: July 4, 2007
Marketer: Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs
Venue: Coney Island
Gray skies and a chance of rain didn't stop 35,000 people from visiting the Nathan's Famous hot dog chain in Coney Island to watch "professional hot-dog eaters" duke it out for the contest's coveted mustard-yellow championship belt. The boisterous spectators from all over sported hot-dog hats, waved homemade signs for their favorite eaters and clapped yellow blow-up sticks Nathan's gave away. The event's crew arranged bottles of official condiments -- Heinz ketchup and Nathan's mustard -- and coolers of water behind a table where the contest would take place.
Started in 1916
Originally starting as a little hot-dog stand that sold nickel franks at Coney Island in 1916, Nathan's has expanded to 49 states and 13 countries in the past 10 years. The first Nathan's Coney Island contest was on July 4, 1916, and it has been held annually ever since. With its growing popularity, 370 million Nathan's hot dogs were sold all over the world in 2006.
"What's interesting about the hot-dog-eating contest is its a way of reminding people of who they were are not only to New York but other states and countries," said Wayne Norbitz, president-chief operating officer of Nathan's.
As George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating and the contest's co-host, introduced each of the contestants, spectators screamed louder and louder. But the decibel level went through the roof when U.S. hopeful and world-record holder (with 59.5 HDBs, or hot dogs and buns) Joey Chestnut and the six-time Nathan's Famous Champion and former record holder Takeru Kobayashi appeared onstage. Although many thought Mr. Kobayashi wouldn't make it to this year's competition because of a jaw injury, he proudly walked to his post at the table.
When the whistle blew, the contestants started shoved franks and buns in their mouths, sometimes two or three at a time. Fifty seconds into the 12-minute contest, Mr. Chestnut had already downed 10 whole dogs. Not far behind, Mr. Kobayashi ate 15 hot dogs in less than two minutes. At the halfway mark, the crowd's chants grew louder as the two front-runners were neck and neck, and no one was sure who would win.
The competition ended with endless cheering and an apparent tie. "Hungry" Charles Hardy, the competition's head judge, carefully tallied the number of empty plates and checked how much crumb and hot-dog debris was left on the table. And with a final total of 66 hot dogs, Mr. Chestnut unseated Mr. Kobayashi as the winner and new male world-record holder (his opponent valiantly vanquished 63 dogs).
The end of the contest meant a rush to Nathan's, and the scene resembled a mosh pit a rock concert rather than a line at a lunch counter. Hundreds inched their way and would order as many as 10 hot dogs a time with mounds of crinkled fries on the side. Although nothing says July Fourth like a nice Nathan's frank, after waiting for more than an hour on line, this hungry reporter went next door to have some Popeye's chicken.
Organizers said this year's event may have been one of the contest's most successful.
"The hot dog is kind of a little piece of Americana," Mr. Norbitz said. "And having a hot dog-eating contest is a fun way of celebrating July Fourth. These contestants can eat so many people are fascinated on what these people can do."
Bradford Coyle, who made this year's qualifier, said Nathan's hot dogs were the best and that he felt at home when he came to Brooklyn from his native Ohio.
"This is my Graceland," the 20-year-old said. "When two immigrants did it in 1916 to see who's more American, that's what America is all about. It's my patriotic duty to come here today."
Bruce and Rich Smilowitz have been eating Nathan's franks since they were children, but said they could never go up against these hot dog heavyweights.
"It certainly makes me want to have more hot dogs, but maybe 30 at most," said 52-year-old Rich Smilowitz.