Professional eater Kevin Strahle goofs around with Mayor Thomas Bernard and Jack's Hot Dog Stand owner Jeffrey Levanos.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Kevin Strahle traveled all the way from his home in New Jersey to compete in the Jack's Hot Dog Stand eating contest on Eagle Street on a sweltering Saturday.
But because of some late intestinal distress, he did not take the title home with him.
Strahle, better known as "L.A. Beast," is a professional eater with over 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube. He holds several distinctive records in the world of professional eating, including: eating five light bulbs in 10 minutes, the entire menu of burgers from Burger King while wearing a shock collar, and ingesting 21 dimes covered in olive oil.
One of Strahle's better known feats is eating an entire pineapple. Not just the entirety of the traditionally edible parts but the whole fruit.
"People think the outer shell would be the difficult part but it's the hard cylinder inside that's tough," he said. "It burns your tongue, my tongue was bleeding afterwards."
There would be no bulbs, pineapples or currency for the Beast on Saturday. Just those delicious, perfect little Jack's hot dogs.
Jefffrey Levanos, owner of Jack's, spoke of the history of the beloved eatery before the contest.
"We started in 1917 so we're one hundred and two years into it," said Levanos. "My son Jeff is fourth generation, family owned all the way through. We've made some recent renovations to spruce up but nothing to lose the original character of the place."
The Beast's appearance in North Adams all started with a simple Facebook post on his page by local fan and North Adams Veteran's Services Agent Steve Roy.
"All I did was post on his Facebook page and, next thing I knew, this was all coming together," Roy said. "I've been a big fan of his for years and I think he can show us locals how it's done."
Three local eaters were eager to challenge the Beast in the hot dog showdown. Kevin Lescarbeau and Evan Gardzina, both of North Adams, are loyal Jack's customers for years. The most notable of the local boys was Keith Bona, a local businessman and president of the City Council. He took it one step further by helping a good cause while trying for the title.
"I dinged Jeff a couple days ago and asked if it was OK if I get some pledges," Bona said. "It started out with some 50 cents-per-dog pledges and went all the way to some $5 pledges."
Bona has eaten 20 dogs by himself in the past.
He announced before the contest started that the number had reached $80 per dog and all the donations would go to the Berkshire Food Project, which provides free lunches to people in the area.
Kim McMann, executive director of the Berkshire Food Project, was on hand in full hot dog costume to root for Bona.
"We really believe that Northern Berkshire is a great place to be but we can make it even better when we all understand what the barriers are in our community. The way we do that is to sit down and break bread with our neighbors," McMann said.
She praised Bona's efforts for the program: "What Keith is doing is pretty amazing, he upped the ante. We don't apply for any big federal or state grants. We survive on what the community provides us so what Keith is doing is huge."
The rules gave the eaters one hour to eat as many Jack's hot dogs as possible. The Beast wasted no time showing the local boys what being a professional eater is all about and got out quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly. With one minute to go and Beast holding an insurmountable lead, he was the only one of the four contestants to utilize the bucket placed in front of him — thus disqualifying him from the contest.
Despite eating 26 hot dogs to 20 for Bona, 17 for Lescarbeau, and 11 for Gardzina, the Beast was placed last for failing to hold down his dogs. Bona was declared the winner and in the process raised $1,600 for the Berkshire Food Project. Jack's pledged $500 to Veterans Services so the event on Eagle Street raised $2,100 for local programs.
The Beast was gracious in defeat and engaged all his fans while filming them for his social media platforms.
"Thanks everyone, I had a great time in North Adams and I don't regret a thing!" he declared.