Competitive eater Joey Chestnut expressed concern in early April that the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest would not take place due to COVID-19. Months later, officials announced that the competition will happen, albeit with major changes. Fans will not attend due to health and safety concerns.
The longtime eating competition traditionally takes place on the corners of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, but 2020 will be different. Chestnut and the other competitors will head to a private location with safety measures in place. Additionally, Major League Eating and the competitors will use the competition as an opportunity to highlight food banks and raise essential funds. The contest will also honor the essential workers in New York for their efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're ecstatic to make the announcement that the Hot Dog-Eating Contest will take place this year," said James Walker, Nathan's Famous Senior Vice President, Restaurants. "2020 has been a year for the history books, and the realization that this storied July 4 tradition would be able to occur, is a great feeling. With that being said, our country and our world has endured so much in the last couple of months, that we'd be remiss if we didn't use this moment to honor those that have done so much for each of us during this time."
ESPN will air the annual contest, which will only feature five eaters. The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest traditionally pits 15 eaters against each other, but Major League Eating made the reduction in order to maintain social distancing. Chestnut will lead the competitors, as will six-time winner Miki Sudo.
"The Nathan's Famous contest is synonymous with July 4, America and the celebration of freedom," host George Shea said. "We are honored to use the contest to highlight the incredible spirit of those who have supported our city and nation through the current challenge." Walker agreed with this sentiment and said that they owe so much to the workers that kept communities fed and cared for.
Chestnut currently holds the world record for hot dogs eaten during the competition. He ingested 74 in 10 minutes, which included buns. Sudo's all-time best outing is 41 hot dogs and buns. She fell just shy of the women's world record, 45 Nathan's Famous hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Sonya Thomas set this mark during the 2012 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, her second of three consecutive titles.