Putting bread on the table: Professional eater earns plenty of clams | nnbw.com

Putting bread on the table: Professional eater earns plenty of clams

Rob Sabo

Joey Chestnut, two-time defending rib eating champion at the Nugget Best in the West Rib Cook-off, makes a good living as a competitive eater.

The 28-year-old San Jose resident, who has won the Nathan’s Famous July 4 International Hot Dog Eating Contest six years running, says he cleared more than $200,000 each of the last three years as a professional eater not bad for a guy who cut his teeth in the sport chowing down on lobsters at Boomtown.

Chestnut will be in Sparks again on Wednesday to defend the rib-eating title he’s won five times since the contest began in 2006 (Chestnut lost in 2009 to heavyweight eater Pat Bertoletti). Chestnut in 2008 consumed an amazing 9.8 pounds of ribs a world record for Major League Eating, the governing body that oversees competitive eating events across the country.

Chestnut’s is the organization’s top-ranked eater for good reason. Check out some of his records:

* 53 soft-shell Taco Bell beef tacos in 10 minutes.

* 13 pounds of salted potatoes in 10 minutes.

* Two gallons of chili in six minutes.

* 47 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes.

Chestnut and a field of other top-tier competitive eaters will vie for a $5,000 purse at the seventh annual rib-eating competition. For most competitors, he says, scarfing down hot dogs, asparagus or hamburgers is a part-time gig there’s just not enough money in it to make a living. But as the nation’s undisputed king of cramming, Chestnut has found a solid source of revenue that supplemented him nicely through his college days at San Jose State.

He recently graduated with a degree in civil engineering and expects to begin working in the field by January. Chestnut says he plans on leaving the rigors of competitive eating competitions, along with the lucrative earnings, behind in the next few years.

“It is such a weird feeling; I went to school for years working toward a civil engineering degree and working for a construction company. I know in 15 years I will be working on a construction project as a project manager and won’t be making more than I am as a competitive eater. But I am young and healthy, and I might as well make the best of it. I’m having fun with it while I can.”

His celebrity as the country’s top eater has earned him a more than a few free beers and opened doors to new business opportunities: Chestnut and a partner plan on opening a boutique hot dog restaurant in San Jose. Competitive eating also has taken him around the world, from Thailand to Japan to Guam.

Chestnut earns revenues from winning events, appearance fees and sponsorships. The average win fluctuates depending on the event (the winner of the rib-eating contest will take home $2,500). The largest purse he’s won was $80,000.

Sponsors of events often cover travel expenses, such as airfare, hotel and transportation since Chestnut’s appearance at a competition is a big draw. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Chestnut says during his early college days he would eat healthy and lean and “eat like a madman” during weekend visits with his parents. His younger brother took notice and made him enter a lobster-eating contest at Boomtown.

“During that contest I fell in love with competitive eating; I was made for it,” Chestnut says.

Chestnut says the Nathan’s hot dog contest is by far the hardest eating competition because competitors push themselves so hard. Other contests featuring Vienna sausages or jalapeno poppers are difficult because of the foods.

“I love a good hot dog and I love ribs. A lot of foods I like are in contests,” he says.

Oddly, most competitive eaters aren’t grossly overweight. Chestnut says he’s healthier now after seven or more years of competitive eating because he pays much closer attention to what he puts in his body. Still, the end of the chow line is in his sights.

“I can’t imagine raising a family and traveling around the country 30 weeks a year,” he says. “It does take a toll. Eventually I’ll have to do fewer contests or somehow tone it down. But I love the competition.”

Even if he reduces his eating schedule, he’s still planning on competing in regional eating events.

“I love doing the close contests. Even once I stop doing Nathan’s, and I’m not as active, I still think I’ll do the ribs in (Sparks) or asparagus in Stockton; they are fun. I don’t have to diet for weeks on end to do those contests. I see myself doing those for at least three of four more years.”