04/27/11 — Eaters to be in Mount Olive Saturday for Big A Challenge

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Eaters to be in Mount Olive Saturday for Big A Challenge

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 27, 2011 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- This weekend's 25th annual North Carolina Pickle Festival may belong to the pickle, but for a brief time -- possibly less than four minutes -- center stage on Saturday will belong to massive cheeseburgers and the six eaters intent on devouring them in record time.

The fourth annual Andy's Big A Challenge will pit five professional eaters and one amateur against the clock and a monstrous 50-ounce Andy's Big A cheeseburger, six ounces of fries and 24 ounces of soft drink.

The first-place finisher will take home $2,000, second place will earn $1,000 and third place will receive $500.

The festival gets under way Friday night with a Band of Oz concert at the Mount Olive Airport and carnival rides downtown. It shifts into high gear with food, vendors, entertainment and activities all day on Saturday.

The five professional eaters come from across the country, including "Gentleman" Joe Mengetti of Wallingford, Conn., who has won the competition all three years. Last year it took him 4 minutes and 29 seconds to finish -- four seconds off the record he set the previous year.

Brandon Akins, wrestling coach at Jacksonville High School, will be the sixth eater. Akins was the top qualifier having qualified at the Jacksonville Andy's with a time of eight minutes.

"We have the best group of competitors that we have ever had," said Adam Wiggins, Andy's marketing director. "This will be the fourth year that we have done the challenge. The first two years we did it in Greenville, and this past year we did it at the Pickle Festival and it was huge success so we decided we would do it again in Mount Olive. It just makes sense.

"Bringing it home to us is really special because, obviously our headquarters is here. This is home for Andy's. It was nice having it in Greenville, but moving it to Mount Olive just made it that much better. You have so many people at the festival already and we knew with the interest that the challenge brings with it that it would be a real big hit. This year in particular, it is Andy's 20th year anniversary, so we want to make a real big splash and go all out. We think this is going to be the best Big A Challenge that we have ever had."

The competition will be held on a stage at the corner of South Center and East Main streets. Spectators should gather early -- last year the area around the stage was well packed prior to the start of the event.

"We are telling folks 11:30 a.m., just in case we start around that time," Wiggins said. "It looks like it is going to be 12. We have not been given anything official yet. We will have some pre-event things going on. We will throw some T-shirts out. Give away some gift certificates to keep people pumped up and get the mood set."

Past competitions and highlights of the new professionals coming in to compete will be shown on a television. Andy's founder Kenney Moore will be the master of ceremonies and there will be three judges to time the eaters.

Moore said he got the idea for the Big A Challenge after seeing similar challenges at other restaurants.

"I saw it as a natural fit," Moore said. "It wasn't bringing in any other products from the outside in order to create. Then of course that evolved into an eating contest where we could involve our customers in it.

"It (contest) just fits into the culture of who we are as a company. We work hard every day, but we are going to have some fun, too. Putting on this eating contest is fun. It is just a flat out a lot of fun. It's a blast for me. I love to watch them go to it and you get people out there in the crowd that will start cheering and it becomes quite an event."

People just love to watch them eat, Wiggins said.

"I think they (people) are just amazed seeing that great big old burger come out, and myself I probably couldn't do it in a day, but to see a professional or even an amateur, because we have amateurs who have eaten it in less than seven minutes," Wiggins said. "It is just amazing somebody can do it that fast. I think that is the main thing.

"Plus it (eating contests) has gained some popularity over the years. Now they have eating contests on ESPN and these guy are just famous. Some of them are even superstars. I think people are just amazed how much they can eat such a short period of time."

The five professional eating contestants entered are:

*Returning Champion "Gentleman" Joe Menchetti, 6' 5'', 360 lbs., of Wallingford, Conn., has won all three Big A Challenges. He has a record time of 4:25. He is ranked as the No. 3 picnic style eater in the U.S.

*"Furious" Pete Czerwinski, 25, out of Ontario, Canada, is the No. 1 ranked picnic style eater in U.S. This will be his first Big A Challenge. Czerwinski holds a professional record of 33-1, with his one loss being to "Gentleman" Joe Menchetti in the NYC Dumpling Eating Contest.

*Dale Boone of Atlanta, Ga., 6' 1", and 300 lbs., a ninth-generation descendant of American legend Daniel Boone, is considered the top-ranked eater in the South. He holds 23 world records.

* "Muncin" Mike Longo, 22, of Stafford, Va., is the smallest contestant at 6'0", 175 lbs. He boasts a professional record of 23-6 and has eaten a 76-ounce steak in 28 minutes. This is his second Big A Challenge,

*David "Tiger Wings" Brunelli of Philadelphia, Pa., 6'3", was the Rookie of the Year in 2010. He ate 88 wings in 16 minutes at wing eating event in New Jersey and nine burgers in 5 minutes at Burgerdelphia in Philadelphia, Pa.