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Stuart "Pickle Rick" Brenkus shoves a pickle in his mouth during Pickle Fest at Bagel Street Deli on March 23, 2018. (FILE)

2019 edition of Pickle Fest to test contestants' eating abilities and stomachs

There may be only one day in Athens where people will vomit from consuming something other than alcohol.

Dozens of contestants will squeeze into the brick confines of Bagel Street Deli, 27 S. Court St., to devour pickles and test the acidic boundaries of their stomachs at Pickle Fest, the annual pickle-eating contest, Friday at 4 p.m.

Last year’s contest featured a buzzer-beater when the winner of the final heat shoved the final and winning pickle into her mouth as the crowd counted down the final seconds.

It was chaos. 

But it was nothing short of what usually occurs in one of the wildest events in Athens.

“It’s complete insanity,” said Hope Gamin, who coordinated Pickle Fest this year and is a manager at the deli. “Anyone who’s passionate about pickles shows up. I don’t know. It’s just insane.”

The contest is split into four 10-minute heats of 12 competitors willing to sacrifice (or maybe improve) their dignity and shove as many dill pickles into their mouths as possible. The winner chooses a charity that will receive the money raised from the $5 entry cost each person pays for the event. Bagel Street Deli will double the donation.

Contestants are given water and a bucket and can only be disqualified by “making relish,” which means two things: crunching the pickle to smaller pieces, thus making it easier to eat, or vomiting. The latter is a more common occurrence.

Just ask Gamin. She was a supporter for a contestant close to victory when she attended her first Pickle Fest in 2014. Gamin and two other people stood in front of the contestant’s table to cheer on the man, who attempted to finish his ninth and winning pickle, when the countdown for the end of the heat started.

When the clock finished, Gamin was covered in, well, take a guess. He couldn’t hold it in, and Gamin was covered in vomit.

“It was horrible,” Gamin said. “It was pickle-y and warm. Me and the two other people just froze and were like, ‘Get to the back! Run away!’”

But that didn’t turn Gamin away from the madness, and it hasn’t turned other people away, either. Bagel Street Deli received more than 200 entries from people looking to be competitors this year, and employees sorted through each survey to gauge the best pickle-eating candidates.

The competition can only host 48 competitors, but the heavy load of entries suggested that this year’s Pickle Fest may draw one of the largest crowds Bagel Street Deli has ever seen. 

“Some years, it's just some people and their friends,” Gamin said. “Other years, people are really excited about it, and it’ll be packed like sardines in here.”

But Gamin — and the rest of Bagel Street Deli — is ready. The employees have ordered a 40-ounce tub of over 250 pickles for this year’s event. 

For them, this is the best day of the year.

“It’s just crazy to see that many people get passionate over pickles,” Gamin said.


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