The ceremonial Picklefest horn blared through the walls of Bagel Street Deli as students, community members and all people who are a fan of weird watched 15 brave contestants take on the annual pickle-eating challenge referred to as Picklefest.
Contestants, split up into three heats, tested the limits of their immune systems while also showcasing their love for pickles.
Each contestant is paired up with one Bagel Street Bageler to get the pickles and keep track of how many they’ve eaten. The Bageler also serve as an aid in case there’s an inevitable incident of a contestant getting sick and being disqualified.
Barring all the logistics, the Bagelers are the contestants biggest cheerleaders and coaches to motivate them through the long ten minutes of pickle eating.
Picklefest has been a staple of Bagel Street Deli and the Ohio University culture since 1999 when the Bagel shop hosted their first of now 22 Picklefest events.
“(Picklefest) helps secure how we view ourselves as unique,” Sean Kidd, who has been a Bageler since 2015, said. “It's a very special place here and the people that live here believe that … it’s an example of how there’s always something happening here in Athens.”
Each year Picklefest isn’t just silly food eating, according to owner Megan McElligott Meyer.
“We match whatever the contests register with and we donate all that (to charity),” McElligott Meyer said.
Over the past 25 years, Picklefest has seen some pretty crazy moments including one year where a contestant decided to eat her own throw-up in order to be re-qualified for the contest. It just goes to show what the contest means and the competitive spirit that it brings.
During this year's Picklefest, there was no throw-up eating (fortunately) but that didn’t make the event any less weird and wild.
In the first heat of the evening, there was a tie between Zander McCrady and Vann Whaley, both finishing eight pickles.
Whaley was inspired to do the Picklefest in a little rivalry with his brother, who was also participating in the event.
“My brother said he was doing it so I came here and decided to sign up last minute,” Whaley said.
Whaley had the lead until McCrady just barely beat the timer, shoving his eighth pickle into his mouth right as time expired. For his performance, McCrady was dubbed “The Pickle maniac from seat 14” by Kidd, who was on the microphone throughout the whole event.
The two were eventually joined at the top of the leaderboard by Mo Snyder, a freshman at OU.
“I have an intense passion for Pickles,” Snyder said. “I even have an Instagram account for these Pickles.”
Entering the third heat of the afternoon, there was a three-way tie for first place with three contestants all having eaten eight pickles in the ten-minute time span.
But then, enter freshman Dylan Burke, a man destined for the pickle-eating contest after being nicknamed “Dill Pickle” as a child.
The horn bellowed through the halls of the dining room once more and just one minute later Burke had already downed his first two pickles, starting out on a pace that was simply unprecedented for the event.
The judges yelled “more pickles! more pickles!” as Burke devoured them at a pace not even the Bagelers could keep up with.
As the heat entered the final two minutes, all eyes were on Burke. As the crowd chanted his name, the other contestants watched as the freshman put forth a truly unbeatable performance.
Burke finished unscathed having eaten a whopping 11 pickles, enough to come away easily with the win.
The winner of the contest every year is rewarded the chance to create their own bagelwich. It will be temporarily placed on the BSD menu for all to order.
As for Burke, he’s not quite sure what his special menu item will look like. One thing is for sure, it will definitely contain pickles.
Burke, a freshman studying Sports Management, says that he will “absolutely” be back for Picklefest as he continues his time here at OU.
Burke should enter next Picklefest as a favorite to win the event after absolutely dominating the competition this year. Nevertheless, Picklefest is sure to be a long and storied tradition that continues to bring the Athens community together at Bagel Street Deli.
“Picklefest becomes a part of your identity,” Kidd said. “It's nice to be a part of something that people get so excited about.”