Eating contests and barf buckets go hand in hand.

Pizza 9 dough maker Tom Epley, who helped organize a pizza-eating contest to be held this weekend, said the pizzeria keeps buckets on hand during the contest in case anyone loses their lunch, or in this case, their contest.

“As the MC, I’m quick to point that out. ‘Look, everyone, she’s turning green! We better get a bucket over here!’ And they were all rooting for her to throw up,” he said. “So it’s kind of gross and kind of fun.”
Epley said pizza-eating contests can also be dangerous.

“The person has to sign a waiver that says ‘I will not hold Pizza 9 responsible for any injury I may cause to myself as a result of stuffing my face with slices of pizza,’” he said.

Pizza 9’s eating contest is now entering its second year, but Epley said the contest started before Pizza 9 even existed, when owner Hasan Aslami owned a roast beef restaurant.

“Three years ago, the owner had a restaurant called Chicago Beef in the South Valley. … We looked at each other and said, ‘We need to have a bratwurst-eating contest.’ That was three years ago; that restaurant is no more,” he said. “So now that he’s opened this pizza restaurant, he said, ‘Tom, we gotta have a pizza-eating contest.’”

Employee Haven Bradley was a contestant in the first-annual contest last year. She said people entering the contest come prepared with tactics to make it easier to eat large amounts of pizza, like dipping the slices in glasses of water.

“It makes it softer to chew, like cram it down,” she said. “After I saw everybody dipping their pizza in water, I realized I didn’t have a chance, so I just slowly ate my pizza. I only ate two slices.”

This contest is part of a worldwide tradition of competitive eating, Epley said.

“Basically, and I find this interesting, there’s an international conference of food-eating contests,” he said. “They watch over, all over the world, eating all kinds of things all over. The Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Coney Island is probably the most famous, but they’re all over the world.”

Bradley said speed is just as important a skill for an eating contest as stomach capacity, a fact that contributed to her loss last year.
“I can eat a lot, but I didn’t realize that I can’t eat a lot in 10 minutes. I guess I thought I could do it, but obviously I couldn’t,” she said.

The first-place prize this year is a flatscreen TV, with runner-up prizes of an iPod touch and $200 worth of gift certificates. Epley said former Mayor Martin Chávez was a judge last year, and Pizza 9 is trying to secure celebrity judges for this contest.

Pizza 9 expects 60-70 contestants this year, Epley said. He said last year’s contest featured a side competition between the police department and the fire department.

“Last year, we had a fun little thing where the Albuquerque Police Department challenged the Albuquerque Fire Department, and they were like teams,” he said. “The policemen beat the fireman by three or four slices, so we donated $100 to the APD Chaplain program.”
Although the restaurant will lose money on the prizes, Epley said the contest is a way of building Pizza 9’s reputation in Albuquerque and giving back to the community.

“We take a beating, but it’s worth it because it’s so much fun. … The reason we charge the $15 is to try to recoup the money we spent on T-shirts,” he said. “We want to be seen as part of the Albuquerque community.”

Epley said Pizza 9 has achieved success as a small business and managed to compete with larger chain stores.

“In less than two years, Albuquerque has allowed us to open four stores,” he said. “So at a time where everyone else is crying and saying, ‘Uncle Sam, please save General Motors,’ and the big banks, they need billions of dollars, here’s little old Pizza 9 scratching and clawing and trying to make a success, and Albuquerque’s welcomed us.”

*Pizza Eating Contest at Pizza 9, 5305 Gibson Blvd.
Sign up ends at 1:30; contest begins at 2:00
Registration fee: $15 pre-registration or $25 the day of
Call (505) 366-6463 to register *