Chestnut banned from hot dog contest over vegan deal

Together, the two men have turned the family-friendly summer event near the beach into must-watch midday TV.

This is not the first time the contest has had a falling-out with a high-profile eater. Takeru Kobayashi, who won the competition for six straight years before the rise of Chestnut, left the contest in 2010 after he refused to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating.

A fan holds a sign depicting Chestnut during last year’s competition.

A fan holds a sign depicting Chestnut during last year’s competition.Credit: AP

At the time, Shea shrugged off Kobayashi’s departure to the news media. But the loss of Chestnut stung. On Tuesday, Shea said his greatest wish was that Chestnut find a way to leave his new business relationship and come back to Major League Eating.

“It is like a gut punch,” Shea said. “To me this is a tradition; it is about New York; it is about the Fourth of July. But maybe that’s just me and not what this is like for everybody.”

Major League Eating hosts a number of eating events around the country. But the Fourth of July contest is its most popular. Shea said that without Chestnut it would be “a sad day” and said that introducing him to the crowd each year was “one of the singular joys of my life.”

He said the first inkling of a problem became clear when Chestnut’s representatives approached Major League Eating earlier this year with a set of demands that surprised the organisation.

The hot dog eating contest is held at Coney Island each Independence Day.

The hot dog eating contest is held at Coney Island each Independence Day.Credit: AFP

One of those demands was that the organisation increase Chestnut’s appearance fee, which it agreed to do. But Chestnut also wanted Major League Eating to accept deals he had already signed, including one to take part in a live Labor Day hot dog eating contest on a streaming platform and another that included his endorsement of Impossible Foods.

Shea said the organisation agreed to accept the streaming hot dog eating contest (even though it seemed like “a take on what we do”) because the event would not include the brand names of the hot dogs eaten.

But Nathan’s and Major League Eating could not countenance Chestnut’s advertising a rival hot dog brand, Shea added.


Still, he said he thought fans of the contest would feel his absence acutely.

“The fans are going to feel this way, and I feel this way: Where is Joey? What is he doing?” Shea said. “We want him there. If he can figure this out and not rep another hot dog brand, then it’s all good. He could come back tomorrow; you just can’t come representing a rival brand.”

But Shea, a consummate New York City showman, said that at the end of the day the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest was bigger than any one man.

“The contest is the institution — not me, not Joey, not anybody,” he said. “Him not being there opens up the entire contest for new champions.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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