[John Laslo is a manager at the Hard Times Restaurant, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, home of the seventy-ounce steak challenge. Read Part One of the interview with Laslo.]
Q: Has anyone taken the challenge more than once?
Laslo: The only person I’m aware of who has taken the challenge more than once was a big guy from Pennsylvania who was about thirty years old. This guy came in one day when I was off and he just tore through the challenge. When he left, he told my boss that he was coming back the next day to do it again. So my boss called me at home and said, “This guy’s coming in to take the challenge. Just watch him. You’ll be amazed at how quickly he goes through it.” So the next day, the guy came in and ordered it. After about twenty minutes, he was struggling. Then he stopped. He didn’t get through half of it.
Q: What happened?
Laslo: I don’t know. Maybe the first one caused so much wear and tear on him that his body just couldn’t take another one so quickly.
Q: Well, when you’re serving someone, are you rooting for them?
Laslo: I think so. For the most part. That’d be fair to say because as we’ve realized over the six years or so that we’ve offered the challenge, only a small percentage of people are going to succeed, so it doesn’t hurt us. A lot of it has to do with the individual, too. You get someone who’s loud and obnoxious, and you’re not as excited for them. You get someone who’s civil and nice, sure, you root for them. I try to give people bits of advice. I tell them about pacing themselves. We don’t want to have something that’s totally unattainable.
Q: When you’re serving someone the steak, do you ever think, “This guy here has got a chance”?
Laslo: I’m sure I have. The staff and I discuss it amongst ourselves. We’ll say, “That guy’s got a shot.” But you really don’t know until someone starts eating whether they’ve got a chance. I’ve seen huge guys just crumble.
Q: What do you mean by crumble?
Laslo: Just not make it. I mean, there have been some disturbing incidents. One guy wound up in the bathroom for an hour after trying the challenge.
Q: Was he okay?
Laslo: He was fine. It was just too much food for him.
Q: What was it like when he came out after spending an hour in the bathroom?
Laslo: Well, the only way I knew he’d been in there an hour was I saw him go in and he didn’t come out until an hour later. On his way out, he just kind of wheeled by me, and I just thought, “Whoa, he’s been in there a long time.” He just scooted out of the door. No comment, all the way around.
Q: What did he look like?
Laslo: He was one of the little guys who tried the challenge, kind of average height, average weight, with glasses. Clearly, he’d just tried his hardest and got himself into some distress.
Q: Is that the most extreme response anyone has had to the challenge?
Laslo: Yes, by lots. I can’t remember anyone else responding like that.
Q: When most people have to stop eating, how do they take it?
Laslo: Most people are pretty good-natured about it. They get into the spirit of the challenge — you against a steak. Sometimes they’re disappointed or surprised because they thought they could do it. And for some guys, it’s a matter of ego. Some guys, they’re bound and determined to finish the whole thing. They’ll hear about the challenge on one trip and return to Niagara Falls just to take the challenge, and they get frustrated when they don’t finish it. But it’s mostly good-spirited.
Q: What about family or friends? How do they react when someone is taking the challenge?
Laslo: They’re usually more vocal than the eater. I remember this one family. A mother ordered the challenge for her son. He was a big kid, about thirteen-years-old.
Q: How big?
Laslo: He was about my height, but he weighed a good two-hundred-plus pounds. And he tried his best to finish the steak, and his mother was helping him out. Every now and then, she’d lean over and pinch some food from his plate, like we weren’t looking.
Q: Did he, or they, finish?
Laslo: No, but it’s probably for the best. You probably shouldn’t encourage your thirteen-year-old son to eat a seventy-ounce steak anyway.
Q: Well, what’s the lure of the seventy-ounce steak challenge?
Laslo: In most cases, I’d say testosterone. It’s the male ego, Yeah, I could knock that off, no problem. Lots of times, the challenge is an event. People will have a party of six or eight together and they’re going to watch one or two of their amigos have a go. It’s an entertainment thing all in itself.
Q: What’s it like in the restaurant when someone orders the steak?
Laslo: There’s a discernible hum across the dining room. People will stop eating and pass the news along, sort of like, “He’s doing it! He’s taking the challenge!”
Q: It’s March right now — when was the last time someone took the challenge?
Laslo: It’s been a while, actually. Not since October, November. Wait, it was earlier than that. You know, I can’t imagine there’s any correlation between the two events, but I don’t think anyone has actually taken the challenge since everything happened in New York on September eleventh. That’s pretty bizarre.
Q: That is.
Q: How do I follow that?
Laslo: You’ve got me.
Q: There are many stories about people who have constructed barrels then attempted to survive a ride over the Falls. In some ways, those people consider the Falls to be a challenge.
Laslo: That’s true.
Q: Do you think the Falls have a similar effect on people who come to your restaurant? Are people more willing to take the seventy-ounce steak challenge because they’ve seen the Falls and are inspired to greatness, or at least incredible physical feats?
Laslo: I don’t think the Falls specifically do that, but coming to the city of Niagara Falls and everything that means — not just the water over the rock — has an impact.
Q: Can you explain that?
Laslo: I don’t mean this to sound critical — don’t get me wrong — but the city of Niagara Falls is almost a low-rent, carnival-like kind of place, with the wax museums and the lights and the haunted houses. It’s a la-la land. It’s not “real” like your hometown in, say, northern Pennsylvania is “real.” Niagara’s a getaway place, an oasis away from reality. It’s easy to get here because it’s so close to a lot of East Coast cities. And when you’re here in Niagara Falls, you can blow off for a couple of days. And it’s not really a high-class place, where you feel like you have to dress up or you have to be on your best behavior or anything like that. It’s just a relaxed, easy, simple place to go. In that kind of place, people do things they wouldn’t normally do. I think that’s it. I hope I didn’t blow a theme for you there.
Q: No, that’s fine.
Laslo: I see where you were going with the challenges. I didn’t mean to shoot it down, but this is just a crazy little place where people do crazy things.