- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

Peter Holden, 56, has eaten in 11,620 of McDonald's 13,000 North American restaurants. He has the receipts to prove it. . John Winter Smith, 30, has been to 3,380 Starbucks Coffee shops in North America and 38 in the United Kingdom.
While these men are collectors, in a sense, of the chain-restaurant eating experience, they say their journeys have little to do with recognition in the Guinness Book of Records and more to do with the pleasures of urban tourism and the challenge of meeting their goals.
Neither man knew about other chain-restaurant quests before beginning his own, but each believes his "collection" represents something of American culture.
Through Ronald McDonald's smile on the restaurant-window panes, Mr. Holden watched a country grow: Cars in the drive-through evolved from compacts during two major gas crises to sport utility vehicles. Ashtrays on tables vanished as tobacco fell out of favor, "unless you are in North Carolina," he says.
"I have sat in a McDonald's for 30-some years," he says, "and watched America go by."
At 6 foot 4 inches tall, 195 pounds, with a low cholesterol level of 169, Mr. Holden is a living contradiction of conventional wisdom concerning fast food. Mr. Holden, a manager of a computer-imaging company in Warrenton, Va., who lives in Great Falls, has picked up nine more visits toward his total.
"He is obviously one of our best customers," says Lisa Howard, spokeswoman for McDonald's.
She says McDonald's certainly would sponsor Mr. Holden for a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. "He is a walking encyclopedia about McDonald's," Miss Howard says.
Mr. Holden puts it more modestly: "I am a collector of McDonald's dining experiences."
While the Golden Arches has been around a lot longer than the gourmet-coffee craze, John Winter Smith the Starbucks connoisseur who asks to be identified simply as "Winter" has some impressive numbers, considering the popular coffee shop has 3,726 stand-alone (not owned by another franchise) cafes in North America.
If Starbucks continues to grow at its speedy rate, Winter could be on pace to outdo his McDonald's compatriot.
"I can visit them faster than they can build them," says Winter, a Dallas-based computer consultant.
He speeds along, hopped up on caffeine, purchasing a cup of the store's gourmet blend (a size "tall" drip coffee, black with two sugars).
In order to save cash for his excursions, Winter sleeps in his 1997 metallic-green Integra with 293,000 miles and failing brakes. While he says he gets a great deal of personal satisfaction from his travels, some of his acquaintances just don't get it.
"I like coffee," says co-worker Steven Allen. "But I wouldn't want to go to 10 places in a day and drink a short from each Starbucks you can find."
Winter's record is 28 shops and a staggering number of milligrams of caffeine in one day.
"That will never happen again," he says. "I was shaking pretty badly after that."
Winter became hooked while in college. He eventually had to cut back from his daily six shots of espresso.
"It starts doing funny things to my heart," he says. "I was nervous all the time."
While not on the road, Winter is a three- or four-cup-a-day guy.
Having visited what he estimates as about 90 percent of existing cafes, Winter no longer is playing catch-up, which gives him more time for more "normal" tourist destinations: museums, state parks and tall buildings.
But he loves getting a good picture of each Starbucks he visits to post on his Web page, www.starbuckseverywhere.net. This Christmas, Winter traveled from Dallas to Colorado to revisit 19 Starbucks in order to get a good picture of each.
"Of course, it is not normal" to be out adding to his collection on the holiday, he says. "Most people are out doing Christmassy things, but I think it is a productive use of my time."
Winter is unabashed about his odd quest and makes no apologies for his hobby.
"I was pretty strange before I started doing this," he says. "This is par for the course."
His dream is to appear on David Letterman's "Late Show," but he says his quest isn't about fame. "Either way, I am still getting a lot of personal satisfaction, no matter if anyone notices or not," he says.
Starbucks has noticed. "Winter demonstrates a great enthusiasm for the Starbucks experience," says an official statement from the corporate offices. "It is flattering to learn about his passion for Starbucks coffee."
Mr. Holden was similarly unmotivated to prove he was just an ordinary guy, though his quest began in the mid-1960s simply as an excuse to travel. Wanting to see more of the country, but not wanting to drive aimlessly "there is no point to that" he became a burgers-and-shakes specialist, eating his way through each city.
After three decades, he just may complete his collection.
He wasn't always advertising his mission. "Initially, I didn't tell anybody" about the goal, he says. But when he stopped at every single McDonald's on a vacation with his parents, they began to catch on.
Girlfriends were tougher to fool and were often none too thrilled about going to out-of-the-way places to eat at McDonald's. "That was a tougher sell," he says. His current girlfriend, psychotherapist Kathleen Vacanti, has become a partner on the journey.
Mr. Holden's record is 45 restaurants in one day and it doesn't count unless he eats there. That means as many as 45 Cokes, McDonaldland cookies or Filet-O-Fishes in one day.
Traveling across country on business last year, Mr. Holden ate his way through each town. For 54 days, he ate only at McDonald's, mixing up the menu for variety.
He says he knows about products that have come and gone, and some served in only particular regions of the country. "Have you ever had McStuffing?" he says. "How about Hotdog McNuggets, or Ham McHoagie?"
His favorite menu item? McPizza.
From jalapeno relish served in Roswell, N.M., to chocolate biscotti at McDonald's on Manhattan's Wall Street, Mr. Holden knows the fluctuating palate of fast-food America.
It remains to be seen whether others like Winter and Mr. Holden are out there, traveling the country via franchise.
Jason Pfaff, who seemed well on his way to some kind of record, stopped updating his "Project Denny's" Web page, www.p7a77.net/dennys, in May. He cited this lofty ambition: "My goal is to visit as many Denny's as possible before I die."
Before taking a hiatus from his visits, he logged a series of in-depth reviews of each Denny's he patronized. There was no final count, and Mr. Pfaff was unreachable at press time.
Mr. Pfaff, a former Denny's employee and Arizona resident, wrote that he bought a school bus in February 1996 expressly as a vehicle for his Denny's stops, but he instead drove a Saturn. The bus, perhaps along with his dreams, ended up in storage in Ohio.

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