Mitch Gillen eats a hot dog during a hot dog eating contest at Philly Pretzel Factory Saturday in Copperas Cove. Philly Pretzel Factory celebrated their one year anniversary with a hot dog eating contest that was open to the public and free. Mitch was the winner and he took home $250 cash and a trophy. 

Sergio Flores|Herald

“I’m never going to win anything again.”

That was the sentiment of “Buddy the Sailor” — otherwise known as Mitch Gillen — when he paused to be photographed with Philly Pretzel Factory owner Phil Agnello and others after winning the hot dog eating contest which was part of the store’s first anniversary celebration July 7.

Gillen, a soldier at Fort Hood, proved to be something to watch during the competition. A bit of a pro at such contests, he has a definite style. Wearing his signature sailor hat, he’s participated in pancake and ice cream eating contests — even one involving sheep brain tacos for a Halloween event.

Bottles of ketchup and cups filled with water were available. One contestant bought some of Philly Pretzel Factory’s dipping cheese to use with his dogs.

Like some of the other competitors, when the plates heaped with 10 full-size pretzel dogs were placed on the picnic table, Gillen used a technique which involved separating the meat from the pretzel shell, eating the hot dog while soaking the pretzel in water.

Of the eight entered in the first round, a few had previous experience with eating contests.

Ronnie Dy, originally from Oklahoma and stationed at Fort Hood, had previously participated in a chocolate milk drinking competition.

Ian Vertefeuille of Copperas Cove actually left his daughter’s sixth birthday party to participate in the contest. “I’ve been in a pie eating contest before,” he said.

Madison Garner, a first timer and the only female in the contest, did it for fun.

The initial round lasted 10 minutes. During that time, some of the competitors ate five hot dogs, while Gillen consumed seven.

As Agnello told them when explaining the rules, “Whatever you want to do to eat it” was acceptable.

Four judges observed the process, and as each hot dog was eaten, numbered sheets stapled to the back of the picnic benches were pulled off to keep the tally accurate.

Gillen, along with Vertefeuille, proceeded to the second round.

The third finalist was Travis Daniels, who was encouraged to participate by his wife, Christine.

“I get him to enter all kinds of stuff,” Christine said.

With $250 for first prize, the two-minute round elapsed quickly. Gillen still managed to eat three pretzel dogs. Vertefeuille and Daniels were impressed.

Both Gillen and second-place winner Vertefeuille received trophies. Many of the contest’s observers took advantage of free pretzels and drinks as part of the celebration.

Philly Pretzel Factory is located at 2990 U.S. Highway 190, in the same building as the H-E-B.

Agnello hopes to make the hot dog eating contest an annual event on the store’s anniversary.

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