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Patrick Bertoletti is on the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs billboard on Coney Island. He’s the guy that looks like a fan of really good music. Mohawk, purple coat, wristbands, metal sign. He’s why I tuned into ESPN on July 4th for the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. He did not compete this year. Or last. But he’s still on the billboard. And he’s still eating in competitions. So why didn’t he compete on the biggest competitive eating stage in the world?

Photo via Wikipedia

Photo via Wikipedia

I met Bertoletti in April 2012. He was kind enough to come on my talk show. We talked about what makes someone brutally abuse their body for seemingly no reason. We found out we both enjoyed the style of Jim McMahon (Bertoletti has paid tribute to the Punky QB by writing the name of the Major League Eating commissioner on his headband, something that got McMahon in trouble in 1986). We casually stayed in touch. He’s why I made a July 4th BBQ stop watching the Red Dawn remake and turn on ESPN. But he wasn’t there. I checked his Facebook page. He was in New York and in an eating competition and hanging out with the only eater better than him, Takeru Kobayashi. So I called Bertoletti.

“I swore I’d never eat hot dogs again, but I was in New York anyway and a contest with no buns seemed appealing. The hot dog buns are the worst part.” Bertoletti ate 87 bun-less hot dogs. When I told him that that’s fucking absurd, Bertoletti’s response was calm and collected. “I guess it’s a lot. Kobayashi beat my ass. He ate 113. I did pretty good, not great.”

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Photo from Patrick Bertoletti’s Facebook page. Patrick is the smiling white male in the black t-shirt behind green haired Kobiyashi.

You most likely will not see Patrick Bertoletti at any officially sanctioned Major League Eating events. He didn’t want to sign a contract — the same contract that is keeping Kobiyashi from the mainstream competitive eating spotlight.

“I just do it for fun now. My priorities have changed.”

Bertoletti now is a co-owner of Taco In A Bag, a restaurant in Dundee, Illinois that serves tacos in a bag. He’s traded in water training for competitions for an hour commute from the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. He says the commute is tougher than the competitive eating.

The competitive eating lifestyle is similar to that of a mid-level stand up. Short trips to big and mid-level cities. A paycheck of a few thousand dollars for a short amount of work that only a few people will ever attempt. A lifestyle that tends to lead to health problems. Glory.

When I asked Bertoletti if he’d ever leave his more normal life to go back to MLE and appearing on ESPN on America’s birthday, he responded like any former athlete. He’s reluctant, but can’t pass up the big time. “The only reason I’d go back is to win the Nathan’s Hot Dog contest. When Joey Chestnut retires, maybe I’ll go back.”

Bertoletti is 29. After competitively eating for more than 10 years, he essentially retired from the big leagues at 28. Nicknamed “Deep Dish” for his location and his record (“I have the record in pizza, I think I ate 47 slices in ten minutes.”) he’s a modest, not-fat, nice man. Similar to Jordan (I realize this is a big stretch, but it does make sense), he peaked in his late 20s and now, “[has] nothing left to prove.”

“A lot of times I’d show up and just not want to eat. The reason why it’s fun is, every once in a while you eat really well, you surprise yourself, and you feel good.” Now he does it when the mood strikes. It’s a chance to catch up with some old friends and maybe make some ‘easy’ money. “All throughout my early 20s I’d fly somewhere, eat for ten minutes, make a couple grand and then party with my friends,” he said.

What do you do after you eat a bunch of stuff for ten years? “It was such a shock to my system when I had to rely on regular work for money. I’d work for two weeks and get paid $700, and before I could just eat for ten minutes and make all I’d need for a month. There’s no end game for competitive eaters. There’s not a lot of tangible skills. What the hell are you supposed to do once you’re done?”

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