By Robert Pozarycki
The annual Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest — Brooklyn’s answer to the Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl combined — will go on as planned, but not at the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues.
Concerns about crowds and social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organizers to scrap plans for holding the gorgefest in public outside of Nathan’s mothership location, just steps from the Coney Island boardwalk. Typically, a rambunctious crowd of thousands relishes the frankfurter frenzy every year.
Instead, the 2020 hot dog happening will take place in a private location. ESPN will televise the festivities beginning at noon on Saturday, July 4.
The men’s and women’s divisions are being pared down from 15 contestants to five each to allow for social distancing. The elite eaters already confirmed for the Independence Day tradition include the defending Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champions: Joey Chestnut on the men’s side, who’s won the competition 12 times; and Miki Sudo on the women’s side, a six-time contest winner.
Regardless of who walks away with the famed mustard yellow belts, the real winners of the 2020 sausage spectacular are the food banks across New York City to which this year’s contest is dedicated. Nathan’s Famous annually donate 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.
Major League Eating, the league of professional competitive eaters, and individual contests will also use the contest to make and solicit donations of their own, and to honor essential workers in New York City.
“2020 has been a year for the history books, and the realization that this storied July 4th tradition would be able to occur is a great feeling,” said James Walker, senior vice president of restaurants for Nathan’s Famous. “With that being said, our country and our world has endured so much in the last couple of months that we’d be remiss if we didn’t use this moment to honor those that have done so much for each of us during this time.”
“The Nathan’s Famous contest is synonymous with July 4th, America and the celebration of freedom,” added contest host George Shea. “We are honored to use the contest to highlight the incredible spirit of those who have supported our city and nation through the current challenge.”
According to Major League Eating’s archives, the annual hot dog eating contest dates back to 1916, when Nathan Handwerker opened his Coney Island hot dog stand.