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The Monster Burger Challenge



    "Thirty minutes or less, and the meal is free."

    A seemingly easy task.

    Now, slide onto the table a plate stacked high with five half-pound burger patties, separated by 10 strips of bacon and five slices of cheese. Topped with -- or rather, adjacent to -- two buns, a few lettuce leaves, a couple slices of tomato and onion and a smear of mayonnaise. Oh, and don't forget the two side dishes.

    Still think eating your meal in 30 minutes is easy?

    When Lohr's Family Restaurant (911 E. Patrick St., Frederick, Md.) began plotting ways to attract a younger crowd to the East Patrick Street eatery last fall, general manager David Jones Jr. came up with a perfect solution: Offer a challenge in exchange for the possibility of free food.

    Jones and friend Ray Wolfe were inspired by the American way of "man versus food," and thought it could be fun to pit customers against a leaning tower of meat and grease.

    One look at the presented product and it's obvious the easiest strategy is to simply unhinge the jaw, drop open the mouth and shove the six-inch-high sandwich down the gullet.

    Well, maybe not.

    Speed-eating tactics vary among challengers. "Everybody has different strategies," Wolf said.

    A local high school athlete holds the current monster-burger record: 15 minutes flat.

    And when an onlooker offered the victor a slice of red velvet cake, directly following the free meal he vacuumed down, he obliged.

    The closest attempt at beating the all-time low came when a man celebrating his birthday sucked down the last few bites of bun, lettuce and tomato just 15 seconds short of the record.

    "I used to be able to eat like that," Wolfe, 27, said with a laugh.

    Side orders run the gamut of light to heavy, from applesauce, coleslaw and breaded mushrooms, to mashed potatoes, french fries and onion rings.

    Below a TV mounted in the corner of the restaurant, a white board explains the specifics of the challenge, including each portion of the dish. Underneath are hash marks representing each attempt, won or lost.

    Only seven customers have managed to sidestep the $18.99 meal cost by eating every ounce of meat, bread, vegetable and side item; 18 people have tried and failed, according to the Lohr's scoreboard.

    "It seems like it's taken off just by the poster," Wolfe said, pointing toward the "Monster Burger Challenge" placard that hangs on the restaurant wall, enticing patrons. Wolfe also chalked up the 25 total tries to word-of-mouth advertisement.

    "People are talking," he said. "They're like, 'I can't believe that.'"

    About 90 percent of burger challengers are high schoolers or adults in their 20s or 30s, all men, Jones said.

    Often, groups of friends will visit the restaurant, looking to end up in the monster burger hall of fame, though commonly failing. A four-person challenge once left Jones with a full grill, covered with 20 patties and 40 pieces of bacon; the rest of the customers had an extra-long wait for their meals that day, he said.

    The monster burger is not the first of Lohr's mammoth meals. Wolfe, who has three Herculean menu items named after him, said customers -- namely himself -- were asking for larger portions of food. It began with a large breakfast omelet, he said; now customers can find five or six hefty meals for any time of the day.

    "It's just been fun," Jones said of the months since Lohr's threw down the food gauntlet.

    Anyone who can beat the 15-minute record will earn the title of champion, a free meal and the added prize of a Lohr's T-shirt, Jones said.

    Well, in that case, bring on the burger(s).