Hot Dogs for Heroes benefits vets through odd American tradition

Writer: Sylvie Sparks
Published: Updated:

Some things just go hand in hand, like a hot dog and the Fourth of July — so much so that hot dog-eating contests have become the norm on this American holiday.

City Tavern in downtown Fort Myers is hosting its fifth annual Hot Dogs for Heroes on Thursday, and Tom McGregor is ready for his second year of chili dog eating.

By day, he owns McGregor’s Public House in the Bell Tower, and by night, he holds the same title.

By no means is Tom McGregor a professional eater, but on Independence Day he braids his beard and chows down on chili dogs.

“The winner ate nine last year, so I’m shooting for nine this year,” McGregor said. “It’s different for sure. You think you can eat a few and then you get three or four and you’re like, what is going on?” 

McGregor ate six in his first City Tavern chili dog eating contest last year.

Not quite the record numbers you see the pros put away.

“After six, I think about 70 and it doesn’t make sense.”

It’s not the numbers that matter though, it’s the cause that’s brought him back for his second competition.

“A chili dog eating contest is silly, but none of us would be doing it without the people that put their lives on the line and fight for our country every day.”

The money contestants raise through sponsorships is donated to American Legion Post 38. 

The Post relies only on donations to provide local military veterans with basic necessities.

“This is all about raising money for the troops. We would love to win the chili dog eating contest, but we care a lot more about trying to raise as much money as we can.”

McGregor is using a different strategy from last year to make his sponsors proud.

“Last year I thought I would eat a lot of hot dogs leading up to it and get ready. By the time it was ready to eat when I was so sick of hot dogs. I’m keeping the belly full lately and just getting ready. I think it’s mental preparation as much as physical at our level. I’m not stretching my stomach out and doing all that sort of stuff.”

We’ll see how that strategy pays off for him on Thursday.

The competition is at City Tavern at 6 p.m. followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.

Last year’s event raised more than $32,000 for local veterans.

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