Contestants fill bellies in sandwich-eating race

Nomaan Merchant

Five hungry Northwestern students lined up inside Potbelly Sandwich Works, 630 Davis St., shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday. Potbelly employees stood behind them with baskets of uneaten sandwiches ready to be devoured.

When the official timekeeper yelled “Go!” the five contestants pounced on the sandwiches as several dozen spectators surrounded them.

Most Potbelly customers watched the contest in silence. Some screamed at their favorite contestant to eat faster.

The five students employed different techniques to finish the most sandwiches in five minutes. Two competitors tore apart each sandwich and dipped each piece into a cup of water before swallowing.

The others crammed as much food as possible into their mouths with each bite.

This is the fourth year Potbelly has held the contest, said David Selby, the chief marketing officer and senior vice president for the company.

“This is about having a lot of fun, building our brand, and engaging and involving our communities,” Selby said.

The winner, first-year McCormick graduate student Young Chang, received a check for $500 after he finished three and one-half sandwiches in five minutes. It was the only prize awarded.

“I love Potbelly’s,” Chang said afterward. “I just love food.”

Potbelly sponsored sandwich-eating contests in nine college towns nationwide Thursday to commemorate National Sandwich Day. Each store chose five college students at random to compete.

Chang said he signed up for the contest while eating at the restaurant one night. He was originally named an alternate but ended up making the cut after another contestant dropped out.

“When I saw the other contestants out there,” Chang said, “I was like, ‘this is not even a competition.'”

Two students, Weinberg senior Louis Levine and McCormick senior Neel Shah, tried to win the competition by breaking each sandwich in two and soaking the pieces in water before they scarfed them down.

Shah said they learned the technique from Takeru Kobayashi, the five-time winner of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, who once ate 53 and one-half hot dogs in 12 minutes.

“But it didn’t work,” said Shah, who finished two and one-quarter sandwiches. Levine ate two and three-quarters sandwiches.

The five students collectively devoured about 15 sandwiches in the five minutes allotted for the contest. Supporters and curious onlookers surrounded them afterwards.

Chang later sat down in a booth with two friends, who each held a sandwich. But Chang sat empty-handed.

This time, he remained a spectator.

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