Cafe serves massive challenge

It was high noon, and two confident food challengers were about to meet their doom in Catawba.

The lunch crowd at Cindy’s Starlite Café was flooding in, and all eyes were on the kitchen.

“I’m hungry,” The O-N-E’s Editor Matthew Tessnear said. “I’m feeling pretty hungry…honestly.”

Tessnear was poised and ready, but he would soon learn he would have to get a whole lot hungrier.

For he, along with The O-N-E Publisher Michael Willard, were about to test what has to be the most scrumptious, yet gruesome challenge in the foothills.

It was no gun fight, but a gluttonous head-on collision with the Cindy’s Big Willy Challenge.

A Facebook challenge

In early February, the staff of The O-N-E ran across a post on Cindy’s Starlite Café 2’s Facebook page.

Cindy’s, which opened its second restaurant in Catawba last fall, is a mom -and-pop-style eatery in downtown Catawba. It’s one of the only area restaurants open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the week, featuring a menu from omelets to burgers to quesadillas.

Recently, however, Cindy’s started promoting a new, more hefty menu item on its Facebook page. The staff posted a photograph entitled “Cindy’s Big Willy Challenge,” which featured a photo of a two-pound cheeseburger smothered in chili, coleslaw and all the fixings. Next to the burger was an (extra) “large” side of chili cheese fries and a 32-ounce Coke. There was a caption next to the photo that read, “If you can eat this two-pound burger, large chili cheese fries, and a 32 oz. drink in 20 minutes, it’s yours. If not, it’s $16.99, plus tax.”

The staff of The O-N-E got a glimpse of this photo, and there were immediately some vocal challengers in the newsroom.

“Oh, I can do that,” some said.

“That’s not that bad,” others proclaimed.

“I’ve eaten something bigger than that,” one said.

Confidence swirled around the room.

However, after the all the talk, there were only two challengers — Tessnear and Willard. They, after several weeks passed, agreed to challenge Big Willy in downtown Catawba on Saturday, March 10.

“I’ve eaten a one-pound burger pretty fast before,” Tessnear said. “I feel pretty good about it. I think 20 minutes will be the hardest part, but I think I can do it. I really do.”

Willard was also self-assured.

“Oh, come on, that doesn’t look that bad,” Willard said, looking at the photo on Facebook again.

What these two men didn’t know then, however, is that Big Willy would quickly put an end to their hopes.

Challenge day
The day of the challenge started with a couple of tweets from Tessnear, who was chronicling the day’s events via social media.

Tessnear’s Twitter feed — 8:44 a.m. — All right. Morning jog and I'm coughing from the cold...but feel a little more hungry.

Tessnear’s Twitter feed — 9:28 a.m. — Starting to feel like I can do a little eating.

Tessnear’s Twitter feed — 10:35 a.m. — Starting to get really hungry.

Gotta wait another hour and a half to combat it.

By eating time at noon, both competitors were feeling pretty hungry and the Cindy’s crew was ready to serve up the Big Willy. The owners, Cindy and Wayne Cothran, were on hand, along with restaurant manager Pat Daniels and the Cindy’s crew to watch the two hopefuls attempt a challenge that had yet to be defeated.

Before Tessnear and Willard’s attempt on Saturday, nine local eaters had failed miserably trying to tame Big Willy, Wayne said. Their names were posted line by line on a board in the back of the restaurant that read “Failures.” There were no names under the “Winners” section, but instead the plastic words, “Who will be first?”

“Did you see all the failures? Did you see the board?” Cindy’s head cook Hanna Guion asked the two challengers before whipping up their meal. “A lot of them come in confident, and then about halfway through, they give up,” Guion said.

Before the challenge, Wayne handed both challengers a form to sign. It read, “…One has 20 minutes to finish entire meal and drink, with no bathroom run and must stay seated for five minutes after consumed.

Cindy’s Starlite Café is not responsible for any over eating or sickness/illness that would come from over eating. No one under age of 18 is allowed to compete in this challenge…”

With a small chuckle, both men signed the form.

While Tessnear, Willard and a growing Cindy’s crowd anticipated the challenge, the restaurant's staff worked hard to cook a pair of two-pound burgers.

After cooking the meat nearly well-done, Guion and Wayne started building Big Willy. It’s built from the bottom to the top, with a bun, chili, slaw, one-pound meat patty, chili, slaw, one-pound patty, chili, slaw, and another bun on top.

When completed, this burger made the picture on Facebook look like a Happy Meal. It towered. It was an intimidating mound of food that already looked nearly impossible.

When the Cindy’s staff finally took the burgers out to Tessnear and Willard a few moments later, the would-be challengers couldn’t help but laugh.

“That’s a lot of food,” Willard said.

Tessnear’s Twitter Feed — 11:59 a.m. — Just saw the meat at Cindy’s.

Wow. What a burger.

Cindy, herself, thought Tessnear had a good chance. She was high on his hopes all morning.

“I think he can do it,” she said. “He’ll be the first one to do it and he’ll be in the paper.”

She was so wrong.

In a few moments, the challengers were off and eating.

By now, Cindy’s was packed with Catawba residents, firefighters and O-N-E staff members alike. All eyes were peeled to see if Tessnear or Willard would be the first to defeat Big Willy.

It was obvious the food was hot, but they both kept a brisk pace.

Five minutes in, Wayne brought up a trashcan and said, “Just in case,” drawing a few laughs from the two.

They continued to keep a steady pace minute after minute, but nothing seemed to disappear. Rather, the mound turned into a platter of delicious slop. It was already becoming apparent that this challenge may be too much for a couple of newspaper guys.

“I’ve got half of it in my lap,” Willard said.

A few minutes passed, and Tessnear had yet to speak a word. He shook his head side to side and started grimacing. It didn’t look good.

“There’s just a lot of it,” Willard said.

Twelve minutes in, Willard said, “It’s not going to happen,” and two minutes later, he raised his fork and stuck it into the pile of food.

“I’m close,” Willard said.

“Wayne, did you hear that? He said he’s close,” Cindy said.

“No, I’m close to being done,” Willard said.

A few moments later, Willard had “ his fill.”

“If you did it in 30 minutes or an hour, it wouldn’t matter,” he said.

Tessnear, now eating at a slower pace, didn’t give up, but Wayne and Daniels had already started picking out the letters to spell his name on the "Failures” list.

When the 20 minutes were up, both had barely eaten half of the food.

“I think that may be impossible,” Willard said.

Tessnear agreed.

Wayne said the challenge started as kind of a joke. He didn’t think anyone would try it. However, after word spread, a flurry of hopefuls started attempting to tame the beast.

“If we were going to do a challenge, I wanted to make it a challenge,” he said. “I wanted to make it tough.”

Defeated, and with their pride stripped, Tessnear and Willard stood up and took a picture underneath their names on the “Failures” list.

Indeed, they were failures. However, they learned an important lesson that looks can be deceiving.

More importantly, now Catawba County — and the world — know there is a true food challenge yet to be defeated just down N.C. 10 in Catawba.
Will you be next?