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Ottumwa Stories: Major League Eating Contest Returns!

Published May 28, 2019

The Canteen Lunch in the Alley is an iconic Ottumwa landmark. The Canteen loose-meat sandwich has been a signature meal in the city since 1927, and sitting on one of the 15 seats at the horseshoe counter for lunch brings visitors from all over Iowa and beyond. The tradition of getting lunch at The Canteen has become a staple in Ottumwa culture.


In June 2018, Major League Eating (MLE) added the World Championship Canteen Sandwich Eating Contest to its slate of sanctioned competitions. With this announcement came national recognition of the Canteen restaurant, the sandwich and the city of Ottumwa. MLE, the world governing body of all stomach-centric sports, conducts more than 80 events annually, including the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, N.Y. The competitive eating community is made up of more than 8,000 veteran and rookie gurgitators who travel the nation in search of top titles and the glory that they provide.


Gideon Oji became the inaugural champion, downing 18.5 Canteens in 10 minutes. For the 2019 contest, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1, in Canteen Alley. Professional eaters have already begun signing up for the chance to compete in this delicious, highly competitive event. Joey Chestnut, the No. 1-ranked competitive eater in the world, will join other top competitive eaters in fighting Oji for the title and attempting to set a new world record.


In addition to the main eating competition, downtown Ottumwa will host two days of events, music, tours and street fairs on May 31 and June 1.


On Friday, May 31, the celebration kicks off in Canteen Alley with Bikes, Burgers and Brews from 5-9 p.m. Standing Hampton will provide live music while the Owls Nest Bar & Grill serves brews and the Canteen serves their famous loose-meat sandwiches. Several of the MLE contestants will sign T-shirts during the evening’s festivities.


From 5-8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Main Street Ottumwa will give tours of the upper story projects in downtown Ottumwa. Upstairs Downtown is a ticketed event, giving the public the opportunity to see the progress Main Street Ottumwa has made in these lofts and apartments. Tickets can be purchased at the GOPIP/Main Street Ottumwa office at 217 E. Main St., and the Hotel Ottumwa at 107 E. Second St.


On Saturday, the street fair Main Street Madness will showcase crafters, small businesses and food trucks from around the area from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come support Ottumwa’s small, local businesses and enjoy some of the best food around.


And just before the MLE Canteen Eating Contest, an Amateur Pork Chop Eating Contest will be held at 1 p.m. At the end of the day, MLE contestants will be available to sign autographs at 3 p.m.

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