[John Laslo is a manager at the Hard Times Restaurant, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, home of the seventy-ounce steak challenge.]

- - -

Q: What is the seventy-ounce steak challenge?

John Laslo: If you can eat a seventy-ounce steak, a baked potato, the daily vegetable, and a slice of cheesecake in one hour, it’s free. If you can’t eat it all, it’s $49.95.

Q: What does a seventy-ounce steak look like?

Laslo: It’s oval-shaped. It’s a top sirloin. It’s probably about two-and-a-half inches thick, and it’s about fifteen to eighteen inches tip-to-tip.

Q: How many people have taken the challenge?

Laslo: Well, it’s not really well documented, but I’d say over the five to six years we’ve run the challenge, somewhere between 210 and 220.

Q: What percentage have been men, what percentage have been women?

Laslo: Ninety-nine percent men. There have been just a few women. One time, a guy surprised his girlfriend with the challenge. When they got to the restaurant, he told her that he’d already ordered their dinner. So they sat down, and we brought out the seventy-ounce steak. It was about as big as her. She had about two bites of it and was done. The guy thought it was hilarious.

Q: What did she think?

Laslo: She thought it was funny, she had a laugh.

Q: What did you think?

Laslo: I thought, “Knock yourself out, pal.”

Q: How does one find out about the seventy-ounce steak challenge?

Laslo: There’s mention in several of our ads that appear in hotel rooms around Niagara Falls. If I’m not mistaken, it’s in the CAA and AAA guide books. There’s some other ads that are distributed on the streets around the area.

Q: So someone sees the ad, and then what?

Laslo: It asks you to call for details. We get at least four to five calls a day. In some of the ads we say, “Call and ask about our free steak dinner.” A lot of people will hear about what they have to do for the free dinner and go, “Yeah, right,” then hang up. If they decide to take it, we let them know that we need to get about four hours lead time to prepare the steak, especially this time of year [winter]. The steaks are frozen and need time to thaw.

Q: How do you serve a steak challenge?

Laslo: We serve everything but the cheesecake at the same time. The steak, baked potato and vegetable are served on a tray that’s actually pretty cool. It’s in the shape of a cow, with a pewter head and a pewter tail end.

Q: How many steak challenges have you served?

Laslo: Not too many. I did a lot of them at the beginning of the challenge, maybe a dozen or so, but I haven’t done a lot recently because I don’t work the floor any more. I did the very first one.

Q: Who took the very first steak challenge?

Laslo: I met the fellow twice. The first time, it was he and another gentleman, and they both took the challenge. The fellow’s friend was a loud guy who said, “Oh, keep the food coming, I can eat it! I can eat it!” He dug in for about twenty minutes then waved the white flag. The guy who finished the steak never said a word. He just went through the challenge like a hot knife through butter. He finished the whole thing in like thirty-eight, thirty-nine minutes.

Q: Wow. What did he look like?

Laslo: He was about 5’ 11", he might’ve weighed a couple hundred pounds. He wasn’t huge — I’ve seen bigger — but he had tremendous rhythm.

Q: What do you mean by rhythm?

Laslo: He was like a metronome: cut… eat… cut… eat. He never changed his rhythm and he just went right through it. His buddy was stuffing his face with the potato and the vegetable, and he just went too fast. He couldn’t finish half of the steak.

Q: So is rhythm the trick to finishing the challenge?

Laslo: Absolutely. I don’t care how big you are, or how much you can put away, if you don’t have a certain rhythm, chances are you won’t make it. It’s just too much food. Most of the time, when someone sees the size of the steak and everything else with it, they just panic. They shovel it in and then they’re full. The trick is to just go at a nice steady pace and take bites as you normally would. You know, an hour’s a long time.

Q: So, with the pacing, it’s somewhat like, say, running a marathon?

Laslo: Right, except there’s no burst of energy at the end.

Q: How many people have successfully completed the meal?

Laslo: Under twenty.

Q: Are they all men?

Laslo: Yes.

Q: Besides the knack for rhythm, are there any other common qualities to these men?

Laslo: Not really. They’ve been different sizes, different shapes, from different parts of the country. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern other than being able to maintain a nice pace. I mean, someone my size probably couldn’t do it.

Q: What size are you?

Laslo: I’m about 5’ 10", I go about 175 — average, average, you know.

Q: Have you ever been tempted to take the challenge?

Laslo: No, never.

Q: Why not?

Laslo: It’s out of my league. See, someone who has never experienced this, even a day or two before trying it, they don’t comprehend just how much food this is. Maybe they have a picture in their head, but the challenge still seems like a crazy, fun thing to do. But I’ve seen 200 of them. Bearing that in mind, it holds no fascination for me on a personal level.

Q: What is the eater like when he finishes the meal?

Laslo: They’re usually calm. They’re not elated, jumping up and down, screaming, “I did it! I did it!” It’s more of a shrug and, “I knew I could do it.” For instance, the first guy who did it, he just calmly finished. He and his buddy paid their bill and then he shook hands with all of us. Then about an hour and a half later, he stuck his head back in the door and said, “I’ll bet you $100 I can do that again.”

Q: What did you say?

Laslo: Actually, he was talking to my boss, Rick. Rick was mockingly terrified that the first guy ever to try it actually did it, so he jokingly said to the guy, “Get the hell out of here. You’re killing us over here.” They had a good chuckle about it.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you met that guy twice.

Laslo: Right. He came back, but he had just a regular meal.

[Part two of “The Seventy-Ounce Steak” will appear next Friday.]