Ken Hoffman on how a famed Houston Jewish bakery helped the G.O.A.T. of competitive food eating win big
Joey Chestnut, the undisputed GOAT of competitive eating, added more luster to his career stats by scarfing down 17.5 pounds of cherry pie in eight minutes at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. last week. It’s his 55th record according to Major League Eating, the governing body of the consumption circuit.
Chestnut now owns the coveted Triple Crown of fruit-filled pies. He already held the title for apple pie (13.1 pounds in 2013) and boysenberry pie (14.5 pounds in 2016).
Chestnut’s performance in Washington was a courageous effort, proving that he can play, I mean eat, hurt. He competed despite a painful ruptured tendon in his right foot. You remember what legendary Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said: “Don’t ever underestimate the stomach of a champion,” or...something like that.
While sweets typically aren’t Chestnut’s strongest discipline, he’s more a savory meats guy, he holds records for funnel cake (5.9 pounds in 2009), Twinkies (121 in 2013), Ice Cream Sandwiches (25.5 in 2018), and Hostess Donettes (257 in 2018).
Chestnut’s cherry pies were made by Three Brothers Bakery, with three locations in Houston. I usually stop by their store at 4036 S. Braeswood Blvd. after riding my bike along Braes Bayou. Two black and white cookies pretty much wipe out any ground I gained pedaling my bike.
The other locations are 12393 Kingsride Ln. near Memorial City Mall and 4606 Washington Ave. As my colleague Eric Sandler reported, Three Brothers will also unveil a fourth location in Tanglewood.
This cherry pie challenge was part of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit – the largest gathering of small business owners ever. After several days of serious meetings and seminars, organizers brought in Chestnut as the dessert, so to speak.
“They had many auxiliary programs and someone came up with the idea to have Joey Chestnut set a competitive eating record during a fun day at Nationals Park. Another person said, how about cherry pie from Three Brothers Bakery? Okay!” Janice Jucker, owner of the famed Houston institution, tells me.
“We had a planning call with Joey’s team. Did you know that competitive eating is a sport?” Jucker asks me.
Oh yeah, I’m aware. Maybe Goldman Sachs is right when the global investment banking firm frothed that Chestnut's accomplishment "cemented his place on the Mount Rushmore of America’s greatest living athletes.” After Chestnut's 15th victory in the July 4 Hot Dog Eating Contest, and now eating 17.5 pounds of cherry pie, I'm chiseling Michael Phelps off my Mount Rushmore.
The pies were baked here in Houston and overnighted to Washington for the event. Organizers asked Jucker to send 25 pounds of cherry pie. She sent 40 pounds just in case Chestnut was particularly hungry that day.
“Joey was so nice. You know what a mensch is? He moved to Indiana and he’s getting married in January,” Jucker reports.
Assuming that Chestnut invites his competitive eating buddies, the catering bill for that wedding will exceed the gross national product of many industrial nations.
“We were told how to cut the pies in eight pieces and place four pieces on each plate, separated in sort of a Maltese Cross pattern to make it easier for the judges to count. Joey wore a white Three Brothers Bakery T-shirt and I thought it would be a mess when the contest was over. But he kept the shirt perfectly clean. He didn’t even leave any crumbs on the plates. He ate every bit of 17.5 pounds,” says Jucker.
I ask Jucker, how come cherry pie isn’t more popular? It’s No. 1 on my list of pies, followed by blueberry then apple.
“It’s one of my favorites, too,” Jucker says. “I once ate a whole cherry pie in one day. I’ll never do that again.”
Insider stuff: Three Brothers Bakery uses tart cherries from Michigan in their pies. No preservatives (“none needed,” says Jucker). The crust is the same dough they use to make hamantashen, a triangular pastry typically filled with fruit (delicious) or poppy seeds (nope). Although pecan pie and apple pie are bigger sellers, it was their key lime pie that won a national contest in 2017 … in Florida even.
This wasn’t the first time that Chestnut set an eating record with a Texas connection. He won the Niko Niko’s gyro contest (30 half-pound gyros) in 2016, HEB’s “True Texas Beef Brisket BBQ Sandwich” event (27 sandwiches in 2019), and the Kolache Factory’s kolache competition (56 sausage kolaches) in 2007.
Not to rest on his laurels, Chestnut next tackles Raising Cane's chicken finger contest in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 27.