- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

YADKINVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Not just anyone would think they could down a 4-pound burger with the fixings in one sitting.

Jacob Whitaker thought he could.

He was confident to the tune of $40 that he could eat such a burger and 2 pounds of cheese fries in 45 minutes.

Whitaker was the first challenger to the Runaway Train Eating Challenge at Old Stage Grill in Yadkinville.

Old Stage is a friendly little restaurant on Old Stage Road that serves a lot of burgers and hot dogs, as well as chicken livers, pork rib-eyes and other country favorites.

The challenge was the brainchild of John Byrd, who has been tweaking the menu and trying a few new things since taking over as manager about 10 months ago.

“I guess I’ve been watching too many Food Network shows,” Byrd said with a laugh. “But we get a lot of big guys, a lot of farmers in here. And I’ve seen guys put away two of our 1-pound burgers. So I wanted something that would challenge them.”

Whitaker first showed up a couple of weeks ago, but was disappointed to learn he had to make a reservation for the challenge. “We order the bread from Subway, so we actually need to plan ahead for it,” Byrd said.

Challengers put up $40 in advance. If they succeed in eating all the food in 45 minutes, they get their money back, a T-shirt and their name on the wall. If they lose, the restaurant keeps the $40.

Whitaker finally got his chance last Wednesday. The sheet pan full of food is clearly a lot to eat, but when it comes out of the kitchen, it looks manageable.

Whitaker was brimming with confidence. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall, 285 pounds and, at age 20, he has youth on his side. “I’m a man of food,” he said. “But I lost 15 pounds in the last couple weeks fasting for this. Then I ate as much I could the last three days to stretch my stomach.”

His dinner the night before consisted of a Hamburger Helper meal made with 1 pound of ground beef and a noodle casserole made with 1 pound of sausage.

“When I go to a restaurant buffet, I can eat four or five full plates,” he said.

Whitaker took off at full speed, tearing the gigantic burger into bites just small enough to fit in his mouth - about four bites’ worth to the average eater.

For the first 15 minutes, Whitaker kept a good pace, ignoring the fries but doing a lot of damage to the two 2-pound burgers, oversized bun, 12 slices of cheese, ½ pound of bacon and layers of lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.

During the second 15 minutes, he slowed down. “I’ve seen him eat this much,” said his fiancée, Niki Greene, who quietly coached him through the meal.

The slower he ate, the more the diners egged him on, with various tips and chants of “Mongo! Mongo!”

With about 18 minutes left, he paused, saying, “That’s a lot of food.”

He was clearly struggling. After a brief stretch, though, he was back at it.

Three minutes later, with 15 minutes left, he called it quits. “I can’t do it,” he said.

Because Whitaker was the first challenger and made such a good effort, Byrd refunded the $40 deposit. “I thought he was going to do it,” Byrd said.

Whitaker hasn’t given up entirely. “I want to do it again. I’m going to come back in a couple weeks.”

Then he quietly excused himself to go to the restroom.

In a few minutes he was back, looking almost as fresh as when he arrived.

“I want a to-go box,” he said.

___

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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