Aug 30, 2012, 4:42 PM EDT
It may sound a touch insane that in this time of political unrest both foreign and domestic, with a hurricane bearing down on U.S. shores and an economy with a pronounced limp, two grown men are having a war of words over hot dogs.
It was a definite case of weiner envy that broke out on Twitter recently between champion competitive eater Joey Chestnut and businessman Frank Zaccanelli (left in photo), as accusations flew over whose hot dogs were superior. This is true. Chestnut, of course, has won the past six Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contests, the most recent by scarfing a world record 68 dogs in 10 minutes.
Zaccanelli’s is a name you may not recognize, however — unless you’re a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, or like me, hot dogs. The Dallas-based businessman and CEO of the Zaccanelli Food Group is the former president of the Mavericks (pre-Mark Cuban) and right-hand man to business magnate Ross Perot Jr. Zaccanelli’s latest bid for world domination involved purchasing the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Hofmann Sausage Co., with the aim of lifting the 133-year-old brand to rub shoulders with the big names in the weiner game — Nathan’s, Ballpark Franks and Oscar Mayer.
To that end, one of the first moves that Zaccanelli made — besides bringing in Roger Staubach and Jim Boeheim as investors — was to acquire former Nathan’s Hot Dog champ Takeru Kobayashi as spokesman, minor investor and hired gun. Arguably the biggest name in competitive eating, Kobayashi has engaged in a running feud with Chestnut and Nathan’s since 2010, when the willowy Japanese eating machine refused to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating, and was thus banished from the Nathan’s Fourth of July contest.
Earlier this week Kobayashi, in his first event under the Hofmann’s banner, gobbled a world record 110 hot dogs (sans buns) at the New York State Fair. Chestnut immediately tweeted that he was unimpressed, and that Hoffman’s were “crap dogs.”
Zaccanelli replied, wondering how Chestnut “knows what crap tastes like?”
Begun, the Weiner Wars have.
“Chestnut is relegated to talking on Twitter. He’s just classless,” Zaccanelli said to Off the Bench. Whether the feud is borne of genuine animosity or is orchestrated hype is up for debate. At any rate, it’s entertaining.
“Kobi is the greatest competitive eater of all time, and Hofmann’s is the greatest hot dog,” Zaccanelli said. “Chestnut’s comments are amateur hour. I’ve been saying for some time now that if people want to see who the best competitive eater is, let’s get Joey and Kobi together for a one-on-one showdown.”
What we have here is a made-to-order hot dog feud — the Mayweather-Pacquiao of competitive eating. And as a rising tide raises all ships, a hot dog war of words can only be good for business on both sides. Zaccanelli is also calling for a “blind taste test,” wherein a neutral organization would sample Nathan’s and Hofmann’s dogs and declare which is best.
“Let (Nathan’s) back up their words with blind testing,” Zaccanelli told Off the Bench. “We’ll have prize money and give the money to charity.”
Zaccanelli admits that his ultimate goal is to get his products into the hands of as many consumers as possible — Hofmann’s is already in 67 Albertson’s Supermarkets in Texas, and another 170 Brookshire’s in that state. Eventually he’ll move on professional sports, where individual teams decide which food products are sold in their stadiums. MLB, NFL, Minor League Baseball, the NHL … all are on Hofmann’s radar.
Majority funding for the purchase came from the Oneida Indian Nation Enterprises in central New York, and among other investors are former Syracuse police chief and Syracuse University All-American basketball player Dennis DuVal, Syracuse head basketball coach Boeheim and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Staubach.
Originally from Syracuse, Zaccanelli says he grew up eating Hofmann’s hot dogs, and when the opportunity to purchase the company came up, he jumped at it. Hofmann’s has been operated by the same family for five generations, and has a cult following in upstate New York.
And speaking of a cult following, Kobayashi’s next appearance for Hoffman’s will come at the Texas State Fair on Oct. 12, the day before the Texas-Oklahoma game. Zaccanelli said that there will be “a competitive eating event,” but exactly what has not yet been determined. That’s also the day that the first Hofmann Hots restaurant will open in Dallas — the beginning of an eventual national chain, according to Zaccanelli. The restaurants are being created by restaurateur Phil Romano, developer of Fuddruckers World’s Greatest Hamburgers and founder of Romano’s Macaroni Grill.
Yep, this is all-out weenie war, and Kobayashi is a major chess piece. Comparing him to Chestnut, Zaccanelli perhaps went a bit overboard when he said, “It’s like Ali-Frazier, and Kobi is Ali, the people’s champion.
“We’re giving him the same opportunity that Nike gave Michael Jordan. This could be very big.”
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com. Twitter: @Rickchand.
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