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Pasco couple eating their way to fame and fortune one hot dog at a time

Forget Joey Chestnut. Bay area couple Miki Sudo and Nick Wehry are two of the top competitors in Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.
 
Miki Sudo, 37, and husband Nick Wehry, 34, are ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the world, respectively, heading into Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July. [Courtesy of thehungrycouple.com]
Miki Sudo, 37, and husband Nick Wehry, 34, are ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the world, respectively, heading into Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July. [Courtesy of thehungrycouple.com] [ Courtesy of thehungrycouple.com ]
Published July 3, 2023|Updated July 4, 2023

PORT RICHEY — Their story is as old as love itself.

Boy meets girl in the quiet hours of the morning in an empty hotel gym. He’s ripped, she’s beautiful. They chat amiably and go their separate ways. Some months later, he’s still thinking about her and works up the courage to call.

Would you join me, he asks hopefully, to eat a 105-pound hamburger?

Cue the doves and violins.

OK, so maybe Miki Sudo and Nick Wehry aren’t the most conventional couple on the block. Maybe, as they’re pushing their baby Max around in a stroller at Sims Park in Pasco County, the audacity of Nick’s red, white and blue mohawk is generating a few extra stares. And maybe, when Max is a little older, he’ll struggle to explain why mommy and daddy are on national television from Coney Island cramming Nathan’s hot dogs in their mouths at a dizzying pace.

But, hey, we all walk through our own stage doors of life.

“My guidance counselor didn’t tell me this was an option,” Wehry said. “If you told me this was going to be a possibility 15 years ago, I would have laughed about it. So, yeah, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to make a living doing something that can be a lot of fun, even though there’s a lot of work that goes into it.

“It’s not the same level of certainty as, say, an accountant or somebody working 9 to 5. But there’s something really cool to be able to say to a kid, ‘Work really hard at what you love doing, even if people tell you it’s silly.’ As long as you’re not harming others, you do your best and don’t quit, some pretty remarkable things can come from it.”

Miki Sudo ate 40 hot dogs to win the women's division at the 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.
Miki Sudo ate 40 hot dogs to win the women's division at the 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. [ JULIA NIKHINSON | AP ]

The Fourth of July is the high holiday in the world of competitive eating, and few contestants will be as recognizable as Sudo, 37, and Wehry, 34, on ESPN’s broadcast Tuesday afternoon. According to Major League Eating, she is ranked No. 3 in the world and is the top female. She’s won the women’s division of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest eight consecutive years. He is ranked No. 4 in the world and turns heads with his bulked-up physique and unique hair choices.

At the time they met in the hotel gym (The Maxwell in Manhattan, hence baby Max’s name) on the morning of the Nathan’s contest in 2018, they were still relatively early in their competitive careers. Wehry had been a bodybuilder and was working at the Vitamin Shoppe in Connecticut when friends talked him into a donut-eating contest. Sudo was a student with bills to pay when a local restaurant in Las Vegas offered a cash prize for eating a 21-pound bowl of pho.

They discovered they not only had the capacity to eat massive amounts of food in a hurry, but they also had personalities that attracted sponsors, restaurants and video cameras. Before they knew it, they were eating egg rolls in Lubbock, Texas, chicken wings in Miami, pistachios in Santa Monica, hard-boiled eggs in Vegas, pork rolls in Trenton, New Jersey, and Jell-O in Milan, Italy.

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They typically participate in 15-20 events a year — some are competitions for cash prizes, some are sponsor-related appearances — and also produce eating-related content for nearly 50,000 subscribers on YouTube. They moved to Tampa Bay a few years ago, and Wehry is working part-time as a personal trainer while Sudo is contemplating a dental hygienist program at Hillsborough Community College.

Aside from the actual 10-15 minutes of a competition, they lead a fairly conventional life.

“You eat 290 donut holes, you’re kind of anxious to get back to boneless, skinless (chicken), egg whites, avocado and a reasonable amount of rice-based cereals,” Wehry said. “For her, it’s a lot more greens with (chicken) and copious amounts of kale, spinach, broccoli.

“Most people would be really bored if they looked inside our refrigerator.”

Nick Wehry holds son, Max, at a weigh-in before the 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York.
Nick Wehry holds son, Max, at a weigh-in before the 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York. [ JULIA NIKHINSON | AP ]

That’s not to say they don’t hone their eating skills. There is a strategy to consuming 40 or more hot dogs in 10 minutes, and they’ll occasionally practice in their backyard in the middle of the day to simulate the heat and outdoor conditions of Coney Island on the Fourth of July. They each have certain beverages they like to dip the buns in to wash down the food. Wehry has a more violent technique smashing the food in his mouth, and is typically better in a sprint. Sudo has a formula for biting hot dogs into pieces, and can usually outperform her husband in the long haul.

They both stress that their fitness plays a huge role in their ability to eat quickly and abundantly.

“Nick obviously lifts a lot of weights, I’m more cardio,” Sudo said. “If I can generally stay around 130 to 135 pounds, I feel my healthiest. Just like it’s more difficult to sprint around the block if you’re carrying extra weight, it’s more difficult to exert yourself and eat at your max speed. So I keep up with my cardio and watch what I eat as we get closer to contests.”

As they discussed the family business, Max had been sitting happily on Sudo’s lap munching on snacks. As it gets nearer to the time to leave, he begins picking up some of the almonds he dropped and popping them in his mouth.

“What are you doing?” Sudo says. “That’s a ground almond. We don’t eat that.”

“More than five seconds,” Wehry says cheerfully. “Not edible.”

Listen to your parents, Max. They’re the experts.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.