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Firefighters chow down at annual hamburger festival

By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer

Randall Green admittedly struggled during a contest Sunday afternoon at Akron’s National Hamburger Festival while trying to eat five thick hamburgers in eight minutes.

He managed to down just two burgers – but did much better just minutes later dunking his head deep into a plastic tub full of ketchup bobbing for plastic cheeseburgers.

Green was among the new recruits for the Akron Fire Department taking part in a couple of high-profile — and high-mess — contests to entertain festival-goers. The two-day event drew thousands of people to South Main Street and Lock 3, aided by great summer weather as well as the prospect of great food from local restaurants. This was the eighth annual festival.

“You see it on TV all the time and think, ‘I can do that,’ ” Green said of the hamburger eating contest. “At first I thought it was going to be easy. It was very delicious. It’s not your typical backyard burger.”

But the thick Menches Brothers burgers the contestants chowed down on proved too much for Green and the other three recruits in the eating contest. Some even dunked the burger buns in water – a common technique used in food eating contests – but no plate was left completely clean.

The bobbing for burger contest that soon followed drew a lot of laughs. Green and two other firefighters donned goggles and were charged with pulling out, with their mouths, as many plastic burgers as they could from the ketchup-filled plastic tub. They all looked like something from a horror movie when they pulled their gooey, ketchup-covered heads out of the tub.

“I actually breathed some in and up my nose. That was not fun at all,” Green said.

But he won, grabbing 19 burgers from the tub.

Green said he scanned the tub first to spot signs of the plastic burgers before plunging his head into the ketchup.

“I used my lips to search around. There was a lot of head banging going on,” he said.

Firefighter Corey Lux used what he called the “windshield wiper method” to sweep back and forth in the ketchup and use his cheeks to find the burgers.

“Oh my. It was fun. It was a lot of fun,” he said.

Festival organizer Drew Cerza said the two-day event was going well. There were more food vendors and restaurants this year and the weather also cooperated, he said. In addition, the festival and the Akron Aeros baseball team coordinated the days to maximize crowds downtown, Cerza said.

“We had more stuff for kids than we’ve had [previously],” he said. “It’s not just about eating burgers. It’s about fun.”

Matthew Orchosky’s invention, the Hulu Ghost Burger at the Retro Dog restaurant stand, took a second-place award for sauce. Orchosky, who is 19, said he grows ghost peppers — the second hottest chili pepper in the world — at home. He developed a sauce using the peppers over the winter.

The Hulu Ghost burger was developed for the festival and will go on sale as early as this week at Retro Dog in Cuyahoga Falls. The ghost pepper sauce goes on a beef burger along with lettuce, bacon, grilled onions, grilled pineapple and provolone cheese.

“The sauce is hot. The lettuce and the pineapple cool it down,” Orchosky said.

“We figured we’d unveil it here. The people love it. I think it’s going to stick around,” said Sean Berrodin, creative director for family-owned Retro Dog.

Delila Owens, who moved from Indianapolis to start a new job as associate professor of school counseling at the University of Akron, said she was enjoying the festival.

“I’m checking out Akron,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. I like the energy. I think the people are cool. Everybody’s talkative and nice.”

Owens said she sampled a burger earlier in the day and was hoping to find a vendor selling turkey burgers.

“I don’t really eat beef,” she said.

Makenzie Syme came from Alliance with her family.

“I have never been here,” she said. “My in-laws have and said it was wonderful.”

Syme said she was impressed: “So much to choose from and it all looks good. Come with a big stomach.”

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or


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