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Annual Picklefest at Bagel Street Deli raises money, spirits

Just after 4 p.m. Friday, the countdown for Picklefest began inside the famous Athens institution, Bagel Street Deli. Once the countdown ended, madness ensued as all who were in attendance saw cheering, vomiting and lots of pickles being eaten. 

Every year students, locals and contestants from the Athens area gather in Bagel Street Deli, 27 S. Court St., for Picklefest, an annual pickle-eating competition that serves as a fundraiser for a charity or cause of the winner’s choice. The winner also gets to name and create a specialty bagelwich for the Bagel Street Deli menu. 

Contestants are split into four different heats, each paired with a Bagel Street Deli employee, or a bageler as they are more commonly referred to. The bagelers are there to keep track of how many pickles each contestant has eaten and to provide a bucket in case of the inevitable throw-up for some contestants. 

Bagelers are also there to provide support, cheering and coaching for the contestants as well. The cheering and coaching are much needed over the 10 strenuous minutes of pickle eating. 

Bagel Street Deli was packed by 4 p.m., and the crowd overflowed out the front door and onto the sidewalk.

“(The) turnout for Picklefest has always been great and this year was no different,” Bagel Street Deli owner Lenny Meyer said. “It was a great turnout, a lot of excited people, it was wonderful.”

The first heat was a thrilling competition that came down to the last minute and last pickle, once time ran out it was senior Sebastian Amaya who came out on top, downing nine pickles and setting a high bar for the rest of the competition. 

“I can’t fake it and act like I had a ton of confidence going into it, but I went in giving it my all,” said Amaya. “Toward the end, I realized I was in the running so I went for the title and I got it. It’s all about persistence.”

Amaya celebrated his win like a true champion, taking off his shirt and standing on his chair, fist-pumping and screaming in victory.

“All my friends were here watching and all of a sudden I win, I had to give my friends a show, you know, “ Amaya said. “They took time out of the day to come see me so I had to let them know.” 

Unfortunately for Amaya and his friends, his record of nine pickles would be broken after just 10 minutes, when Student Senate Treasurer Reagan Farmer and 2023 Picklefest winner Dylan Burke tied in heat two after eating 10 pickles in 10 minutes. 

Their double-digit total was the most any competitor ate on the day, and the two winners came up with a solid plan on how to split the winner's prizes. Burke, the vice president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Ohio University, plans to become an Iron Phi, which is accomplished by raising $1,000 for Live Like Lou, a charity that supports and donates to families affected by ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

As for the other reward, Farmer will be making the new bagelwich for the Bagel Street Deli menu, after some deliberation.

“I’m going to have to do some brainstorming,” Farmer said. “I didn’t think I would be this successful so I didn’t have a plan in place.”

Picklefest has been happening since 1997, and just like any tradition that spans that amount of time, it has become an iconic representation of Athens as a town and community.  

“It's unique, it's irreverent, it's eclectic,“ Meyer said. "It is everything that Athens is.”


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