Twenty-eight inches in diameter, three pounds of cheese, a pound and a half of pepperoni and sausage — eight pounds in total make up a Benny’s challenge pizza. While there are 17 restaurants across the states of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, only one person has completed the Benny’s challenge.
In February 2012, the first Benny’s Pizza opened its doors in Blacksburg, Virginia. The owners were Virginia Tech alumni and had a vision for their pizza shop. Each Benny’s store has a mural completed by the same artist, Andre Shank, but each is unique in their own way. While each Benny’s provides a slightly different atmosphere because of the design differences, they all aim to achieve the same goal — fast service and high-quality pizza.
Soon after Benny’s opened, customers asked about an eating challenge, given the fact that their pizzas are 28 inches wide. According to Jon Durham, Benny’s regional manager, people enjoy challenges, especially when it comes to eating pizza. The challenge became official with a $500 reward in 2017.
“The idea was always there. People would ask but it was never in writing,” Durham said. “We had a few people that ate whole cheese pizzas and then we decided to come up with an actual challenge and roll it out.”
To win the Benny’s Challenge, the customer must purchase the pizza for $40 and eat the entire pie within one hour of first touching it — crust and all. The challenge has been attempted by many but was only completed once by a person at the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, location in 2017.
“It’s the same whole pizza size-wise, the only difference is that it has a pound and a half of pepperoni and Italian sausage on it,” Brendon Lasley, a sophomore public policy and administration major and employee at Benny’s, said. “After a while the weight and heat from the pizza breaks the paddle.”
Before attempting the challenge, the participant must sign a waiver. There are many rules the participants must follow. But, they’re allowed to choose their drink — beer, water or soda.
“Most of the time people go with cups of water,” John Faircloth, an assistant manager at the downtown Harrisonburg Benny’s, said. “The people who get soda or beer, it just fills them up too much.”
Participants must be at least 18 years old to compete. Once the participant begins the challenge, they can’t leave their seat until the challenge is over. If there’s a false start or the participant shares the pizza with others, they’ll be ineligible to complete the challenge.
“There’s some disqualifications,” Durham said. “You’re not allowed to get up, go to the bathroom, vomiting — all that stuff. If you complete it, we send you a $500 check in the mail.”
While no one has won the challenge in Harrisonburg, there’ve been several who’ve attempted, all of whom have used different techniques.
“Most of them just try to eat the slices as fast as they can and save the crust for last,” Faircloth said. “I did see this one guy recently just try to eat the toppings first and he did not do well.”
According to Lasley, prospective Benny’s challenge participants tend to say that the way to win is by eating the bare minimum a couple days leading up to the challenge. However Lasley doesn’t believe that’s the best method.
“[That] is the opposite of what you want to do because your stomach shrinks if you don’t eat,” Lasley said. “So eat a bunch of huge meals for like a week up to it and then don’t eat the day of.”
The time given to a competitive eater is 15 minutes, while an amateur is given an hour. In the past some customers who were competitive eaters attempted to compete as an amateur — giving them more time to complete the challenge.
“People would give us fake names, not at the Harrisonburg store but company-wide,” Durham said. “You can normally do a quick Google search and find out if someone has a Youtube page.”
If something like this were to happen, it’s up to the discretion of the worker whether or not to allow the person to attempt the challenge. Over the past year approximately 10 people have attempted the challenge in Harrisonburg alone.
Benny’s pizza was inspired by the traditional New York-style pizza and has been modified to create a different form. Benny’s allows Virginia to have a style of their own.
“We coined that phrase when the original Blacksburg store opened,” Durham said. “It’s modeled after the New York style, late night, huge slice of pizza. Our recipe is a little different than the New York Style so we came up with the new thing of the Virginia Slice.”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.