A five-pound, 20-foot long sausage piled high with peppers and onions is a daunting sight, but 12 contestants attempted to devour the behemoth entree at an eating contest on Thursday at The Wurst Bar, located at 705 W. Cross St.
The contest raised $7,251 for the FLY Children’s Art Center. The nonprofit organization is based in Ypsilanti and focuses on giving children access to making art in settings that promote creativity.
“We didn’t intend for this to be such a big fundraiser, but it just kind of took off,” said Christine Bruxvoort, president of the board at FLY.
The initial goal for the fundraiser was to raise $2,500, but word spread quickly about the event and the response surprised many.
The Wurst Bar’s sausage eating competition was taped by local news channels. The event also received national attention from a variety of news outlets, such as The Washington Post.
Bruxvoort said she was amazed at the publicity the fundraiser evoked.
“I saw this contest in a Kansas newspaper,” she said. “How’d this end up in a Kansas newspaper?”
The Wurst Bar’s owner Jesse Kranyak echoed the sentiments.
“I just got off the phone with the Associated Press,” he said. “The story has been picked up from San Francisco to New York.”
Kranyak said coming up with the idea for the event was a collaborative effort.
“Mark Maynard and I were kicking around ideas of an all-you-can eat hot dog contest for charity but then decided to use a 20-foot long sausage that would be made and smoked in-house,” he said.
Maynard helped coordinate the event and said the motivation for the fundraiser was quite simple.
“We wanted to eat a lot of sausage and raise a lot of money,” he said. “My friend Jesse said he could make 20 feet sausages, but couldn’t put it on the menu.”
Maynard said bringing the Ypsilanti community together was a big bonus of the fundraiser.
“Making a connection between the people and the city is what it’s all about, and we have raised quite a bit of money in the process,” he said.
Before the competition, Kranyak said he wasn’t confident anyone would be able to complete the challenge.
“We’ll see if anyone can do it, but that’s a lot of sausage,” Kranyak said.
The winner of the event, Jason Youngs aka “Knifebeard Sausagehawk,” ate more than half of the enormous platter of tubed meat and toppings.
“At first I thought to rush it, but then I realized that was a terrible idea,” he said. “So I sipped ginger ale and took it slow, but it definitely feels like I ate pounds of sausage.”
FLY board member Kristin Schrader said the mission of the organization is to provide an artistic outlet for local youth.
“It was founded to fill in the void left in Ypsilanti and other public schools as art programs began to get their budgets cut,” she said. “It’s a real value to the kids and provides an ongoing interaction with artistic learning.”
Schrader said the experience for children is more unstructured and unsupervised than most public school settings.
“Art in today’s classroom doesn’t allow a lot of space to be creative,” she said. “We try to allow kids the opportunity to express themselves.”
FLY has a mobile unit that provides after school art programs in a variety of different locations, and an artistic creative studio located at 40 N. Huron Street.
Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber competed in the event and stated his support for the organization.
“Art has suffered a lot because of funding cuts at the state and federal levels,” he said. “Kids need to have art in their lives, and FLY does that, and that’s why I support FLY.”
Schreiber said the work-up to the event was quite intense.
“I fasted this morning and then worked out. My whole life has been working up to this point, and this contest is the apogee of my existence,” he said.
Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin and a student team partook in the contest and raised $143 at the event.
“I’m not a very big fan of bratwurst, but I brought some hungry students that should be able to help me out,” Martin said.
EMU senior and free arts major Kate Hale heard about the event from Facebook and came to offer support and sympathy for the contestants.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a nightmare with all those peppers on top, but hopefully they aren’t spicy,” she said.
More than 150 people were packed into the bar. Hale commented on the high turnout.
“I’m really surprised this many people showed up, but then again, there are some pretty popular contestants here,” she said.
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