Every week, Spike’s Junkyard Dogs in Allston gets nearly two dozen hearty souls seeking a challenge. Their mission: eat at least six oversize hot dogs. If this tall task is completed, the victors receive perks, including a free T-shirt, membership to the “Kennel Club,” and a picture on the venerable “Wall of Fame.”
It may not sound difficult, but when Spike’s owner David Gettleman places the plate of hot dogs in front of his willing victims, he says most react the same way: “Oh, my!”
That sentiment is frequently heard around Boston as restaurants hoping to create a buzz or find a quirky niche are rolling out unique eating challenges. And the big-appetite community has responded warmly. Brave and hungry Bostonians can head to Vito’s Tavern in the North End, where anyone who eats 10 “Atomic Wings” gets a refund. The “Vermonster” sundae at Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops consists of 20 scoops of ice cream with copious toppings. The North End’s La Famiglia Giorgio’s offers five different challenges, each rewarded with a T-shirt. The eating-challenge database Eatfeats.com lists 77 offerings in Massachusetts and many additional one-time contests are held during the year in the state.
Spike’s has offered the Kennel Club since first opening in Providence in 1992, according to founder David Drake.
At the Allston restaurant, Gettleman makes sure to explain the rules to every challenger before he or she begins. Eaters are not allowed to leave the restaurant, use the restroom, or receive any assistance — and regurgitation means disqualification. Each diner must eat six dogs to qualify for the wall. But if he or she breaks the restaurant’s record (15 for men; 12 for women), the money for the meal is refunded. Any dog on the menu can be ordered, but most customers tend to go with six plain franks to start.
According to Gettleman, that’s a smart move. “We like to say ‘Spike’s ain’t no weenie,’” the Allston franchisee says. “Our hot dog has some weight to it.”
Two-thirds of the people who attempt the challenge are able to complete it. The average person, however, begins to flounder at the fourth dog.
Challengers at Spike’s have a fairly high success rate, but the same can’t be said for those who attempt the challenge at Eagles Deli in Cleveland Circle. Where Spike’s has a Wall of Fame, the Brighton restaurant employs a “Wall of Shame,” showcasing thousands of competitors who were unable to complete their legendary — and downright difficult — burger challenge.
The task grew whenever someone completed it, according to General Manager Mo Osmani. After professional eater “Furious” Pete Czerwinski defeated the previous challenge in 2010, Osmani added 1 pound to the burger and decided enough was enough. It remains a 6-pound cheeseburger with 24 bacon strips, 24 slices of American cheese, five pounds of fries, and a dill pickle, to be finished within one hour.
The challenge is extreme, but comes with a lavish reward. Winners get their money back ($65.99), and a $100 gift card. Those prizes haven’t been awarded often since 2010. Up to seven people order the challenge each week, but in the past four years, only three —including renowned competitive eater Joey Chestnut —have been able to take it down.
The prizes that Osmani has awarded pale in comparison to what the challenge has brought to the eatery. Eagles has been featured on “Rachael Ray,” “Man v. Food,” and other shows. One might assume that most challengers would be students from nearby universities, but according to Osmani, almost all are out-of-towners. “They’ve seen us on TV,” he says. They want to do the challenge and get photographs. “We get a lot of international visitors, too.”
Gettleman and Osmani are aware that more challenges are appearing in the city, and they say that it makes sense because it’s a great way to attract new customers. Both proprietors offer advice for potential contestants. “A lot of people think that if they don’t eat the day before they’ll come in and take it down, but that’s a big mistake. Once you’re starving, as soon as you eat a few bites of anything, you fill up fast,” Osmani says.
Gettleman’s advice is very straightforward: Practice and know the rules. “A gentleman came in and ordered a variety of dogs with different toppings. He blew through five in less than 15 minutes. He knew not to leave, but after the fifth dog, he went to his car to get his camera. When he returned, we looked at him and were like ‘What did you just do? You disqualified yourself.’
“He did beat it about six months later.”
1918 Beacon St.,
Cleveland Circle, Brighton,
La Famiglia Giorgio’s
112 Salem St.,
North End, Boston, 617-367-6711,
Spike’s Junkyard Dogs
Ave., Allston, 617-254-7700,
54 Salem St.,
North End, Boston, 857-277-0229,
Eat Feats www.eatfeats.com
Jon Mael can be reached at jmael2014