Patty Meltdown

November 20, 2009
Eating a 5-pound burger and 5 pounds of fries proves too much
By Matt Cooper

Springfield, Oregon – When your nickname is “The Bottomless Pit,” it’s only a matter of time before your capacity to consume will be put to the ultimate test.

For 24-year-old Tyler Rhodes of Springfield, that test came Thursday afternoon at a burger joint named, appropriately enough, Giant Burger.

Rhodes was the first of more than 60 contestants who have signed up for a promotional event in which they put their mouth where their money is: Eat a five-pound hamburger and five pounds of fries, within one hour, and it’s free. Fail, and you’re out $39.95.

Rhodes, a big bear of a man, was confident. “I believe I could eat the whole thing,” he said, an hour before his date with density. “My friends are pretty much saying that I’m crazy, that I won’t be able to do it. But I’ll probably get the money back.”

The event was the brainstorm of owner Brad Welt, who said he felt the restaurant needed to live up to its name. Customers were plowing through the menu’s one- and two-pound burgers without blinking, he said.

The restaurant’s burger challenge drew a sizeable afternoon crowd, including TV cameras and other news media. Rhodes is a regular at Giant Burger and as he settled in at a table in the center of the cozy wood-paneled restaurant, the lunchtime staff and 20 or so friends and other onlookers egged him on — at times encouragingly, but also with good-natured ribbing.

“If you don’t at least get done with that first patty, you’re losing the nickname ‘Bottomless Pit,’ ” Tyler’s buddy, Sterling Shafer, called out. “We’re demoting you to ‘Pothole.’”

“It’s easy to talk smack when you’re not staring at a heart attack,” shot back Jeremy McDonald, a restaurant food supplier, laughing.

Giant Burger customers describe the place as old-fashioned and old-school, even military-friendly, and Welt allowed that his contest might rub some people the wrong way. “This is all in good fun,” he said. “We’re not trying to hurt anybody.”

Or get hurt, as the case may be. Contestants were required to sign waivers, in an effort to protect the restaurant from any legal action that could arise from the burger challenge.

Health experts, meanwhile, were wincing at news of the event, calling it another example of food wrongly used as all-you-can-eat entertainment in a county and a country with rising obesity.

In fact, there are extreme health risks from eating such a meal, said Nancy McCaffrey, a dietitian at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. The five-pound burger and five-pound fries combo carries a payload of more than 700 grams of fat alone — more than 10 times what the body needs in a single day, McCaffrey said.

“If you have a history of heart disease, a high-fat meal can constrict arteries — I’m not going to say you’re going to get a heart attack, but you could get chest pain,” McCaffrey said. “There’s a possibility of high blood pressure, diarrhea, you could be throwing up. It’s not a good idea to be eating this way.”

It’s unclear whether the ramifications of a 13,000-calorie lunch weighed on Rhodes’ mind as he dug into a burger behemoth as big as his own shaven head. To his left waited a small mountain of fries that could have sated a classroom of third-graders.

Rhodes, easy-going and well-tattooed — HATE inked on one hand and LOVE on the other — ate with the slow determination of someone putting up a wall, brick by brick.

After 22 minutes, and with neither of two, 2.5-pound hamburger patties showing much of a dent, he declared himself “almost full.” At 39 minutes, he sighed heavily and adopted the thousand-yard stare of a battle-weary soldier. “Oooohh,” Rhodes said.

“He’s slowing down,” manager Marilyn Magill said, chuckling. “I’m trying to think of a way to describe him.” She thought for a moment. “Droopy,” she decided, and laughed again.

At 47 minutes, with Rhodes’ resolve clearly flagging, the chants started up: “Go Tyler go! Go Tyler go!”

“Shovel it!” one offered. “Put your face in it!” another added. “Hell, no,” Rhodes responded.

It wasn’t to be. A minute later, Rhodes waved the white flag. “I’m done,” he said. “That’s it. I’m done. Ooooh.”

The final tally: Rhodes had eaten perhaps 1 1/2 pounds of hamburger and 1 1/2 pounds of French fries in about 50 minutes. His unsuccessful conquest would earn him a spot on the restaurant’s “Wall of Shame” — and, no doubt, a sigh of relief from dietitians and doctors everywhere.

Joining Rhodes on the Wall of Shame will be 48-year-old Brian Stenholm of Springfield, a second contestant who fared a little better Thursday evening, getting about halfway through his burger and fries. But Stenholm also left the restaurant a humbled man. His plans for the rest of the night?

“Not eating,” he said. “I’m going home and lying on the couch and digesting.”

As for Rhodes, when he called it quits, rose to his feet and patted his now-prominent belly, the restaurant erupted in applause and Magill stepped forward, enveloping him in a huge hug. “Give him a hand,” somebody yelled out.

“I don’t need a hand,” Rhodes responded. “I need a cigarette.”

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