BY KATHERINE LAZARUS
BRANDON — Arturo Mendiola, 35, is a big man with a big appetite for Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.
A four-time defending champion of Brandon’s Swiss Roll eating contest, Mendiola was crowned “world record champion” after his impressive win on Saturday at Brandon’s Fourth of July celebration by Town Recreation Director Bill Moore. The champion downed 12 swiss rolls in 93 seconds.
“It was fun to win, it feels really good,” said Mendiola. “Usually, it takes me closer to two minutes.”
The champion, a disabled veteran from trauma as a field medic in the Korean Defense and Persian Gulf War, competed against 10 people while a crowd of 100 looked on, including his friends and family cheering him on. “Make sure you come hungry and get ready for a sugar spike,” Mendiola said to anyone who might want to enter and challenge the champ.
The competition began as a pie-eating contest that Brandon residents Jim Leary, 59, and his wife Nancy, 59, started 10 years ago. Jim was on the Brandon parade committee and took on the pie-eating contest as a volunteer with Nancy helping. They began with homemade pies, then adapted to putting filling and whipped cream into a crust to make the competition easier, and ultimately decided on Swiss Rolls six years ago based on a suggestion by Moore, as they are easy to eat and quantify.
“It was an enjoyable event, well-attended, and kind of silly and a light thing to do in this day and age when things are serious,” said Nancy.
Of Mendiola’s victory, Nancy said, “he’s a very impressive man and I hope people will start training now to bring some competition to him next year.”
To win, Mendiola had to see how fast he could eat a box of 12 Swiss Rolls, including the time it takes to open the packages. Ironically, he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, saying his favorite food is “steak or something savory.”
“I was just talking with my wife the other day about how I love being in the competition—not winning, just being in the crowd with everyone cheering, with all the adrenaline going on. It takes me back to wrestling in high school,” said Mendiola, who is no stranger to competition.
The winner joined the contest after he moved to Brandon from Albuquerque, NM, five years ago with his wife Sarah, 33, and his two daughters — Emily, 8, and Katherine, 7. “My wife urged me to sign up and after that first win, I was like, oh, that was really fun,” said Mendiola.
He plans on continuing to compete in the Brandon contest, which is the only place he has ever competed.
“The community keeps me coming back,” said Mendiola, who always attends the family activities at Brandon’s Fourth of July celebrations each year.