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Eat up at the annual WV Hot Dog Festival Saturday in Huntington

By SARAH HOFFMAN

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — The 13th Annual Hot Dog Festival on Saturday, July 29, will offer much more than food.

The concept for the festival, which benefits the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital, came from John Mandt Jr., owner of Stewarts Original Hot Dogs.

It wouldn’t be a Hot Dog Festival without an eating contest. This year’s West Virginia Hot Dog Festival is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Huntington’s Pullman Square.
(Photo by Sholten Singer)

“I just had an idea, being Stewarts and being the oldest restaurant in our area of any kind. I was looking for something to do to give back to the community,” Mandt said. The decision to donate the proceeds to Cabell Huntington Hospital’s pediatric oncology unit – and later, Hoops Family Children’s Hospital – came from memories of difficult times from Mandt’s own childhood.

Mandt took the idea to iHeartMedia. They thought it was a great idea and became the primary sponsor. They helped to promote, staff and orchestrate the festival, which has since become a well-known annual event that sees approximately 10,000 patrons over the course of the day.

The festival always takes place on the last weekend of July – which happens to be national hot dog month – just before families turn their attention towards the upcoming school year.

“It’s a good day to get out,” Mandt said. “It’s a very fun day, and it’s different – it’s a little unique.”

Saturday’s extravaganza unofficially begins with the Bun Run 10K/5K and Walk Your Buns Off walk, and is followed by the Buns on Bikes five-mile tour. Once the rest of the festival gets underway at 10 a.m., visitors will find an assortment of entertainment, including vendors, booths, a car show, a rock wall and wrestling exhibitions. Kym York-Blake, iHeartMedia senior marketing consultant and the festival’s coordinator, said the festival offers around 90 separate attractions. New to the festival this year is a zipline. Other activities for kids include inflatables and games.

The Wiener Dog Races, which have become a crowd pleaser, are preceded by the All-Breed Exhibition Dog Races. There are three divisions based on the dog’s size, and the winner of each race competes in the championship race. York-Blake, who works with dachshund rescue, began the races years ago.

“It’s like a mini rock concert,” she said. Prior to the dog racing are the costume contest and the Pooch Parade, which will be grand marshaled by guest Flippy the Dachshund, who has her own comic book series.

If you enjoy competitive eating, the hot dog eating contest, which Woodrow Lewis of Huntington has won for the past five years, is returning, as is the root beer chugging contest.

Among the attractions, of course, are the hot dogs, which are served by a variety of businesses. Considering Huntington’s size, it has a surprising amount of restaurants and stands specializing in hot dogs. Stewarts, which has existed since 1932, is a fourth-generation family business. Some other longstanding local favorites include Midway (est. 1939), Frostop (1959), and Sam’s (1983). While one might expect rivalry between the businesses, Mandt says that is not the case. They sell their products side-by-side, contributing to both the community and the cause.

The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival has been successful with its fundraising. To date, the festival has earned nearly $175,000, which York-Blake hopes will reach $200,000 with this year’s festival. Whether or not that goal is met this Saturday, Mandt says ideas are already in the works for the festival’s 14th year.

“We’ve been able to do it with a lot of involvement from our community, from the vendors, and so on and so forth. Giving is something that everybody can do. Whether it’s monetary, whether it’s sweat equity and helping out with something, or helping promote something, there’s always a way to help out or give back,” Mandt said. “We can all make a difference in some way or another and leave a positive impact in our community.”

If you go

WHAT: The 13th Annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival.

WHERE: Pullman Square in Huntington (between 8th and 10th streets on 3rd Avenue).

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. Saturday, July 29.

ADMISSION: Free.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

7 a.m.: Registration for Bun Run 10K/5K and Walk Your Buns Off walk

8 a.m.: Bun Run

8:30 a.m.: Contest registration

9:30 a.m.: Buns on Bikes 5-mile tour

10 a.m.: West Virginia Hot Dog Festival opens

10:15 a.m.: Dog costume contest/parade

11:40 a.m.: All-breed dog races

Noon: Wiener Dog Races

12:45 p.m.: Live music: The Dividends

1 p.m.: Wrestling exhibition

2 p.m.: Hot dog eating contest

2:15 p.m.: Live music: Jacey Fuller

3:15 p.m.: Root beer chugging contest

3:20 p.m.: Family fun games

3:30 p.m.: Wrestling exhibition

3:45 p.m.: Live music: The Return

4:50 p.m.: Thanks and Goodbyes

For a more detailed schedule and additional information, visit wvhotdogfestival.com.

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