EAST MANATEE -- The challenge of toppling the waffle tower at Jars Garden Cafe and Coffee Lounge brought in a crowd at the 24-seat neighborhood restaurant at 5268 State Road 64 E. in Bradenton.
Winner "Super Hombre" Ian Finch downed his stack of eight waffles, complete with strawberries, whipped cream, bacon and smeared butter in five minutes, soundly defeating six other competitors. They included Big Ben, Ben Grimsley; Deputy Dog, Mark Farrier; Mr. 375, Jonathan Ott; Tyrone the Terrible, Tyrone Deel; Dan the Man, Dan Allen; and Kelvinator, Kevin Foy.
"I just do everything fast. I drink a lot of water," said Finch, who had never been in an eating competition before. He expects to graduate from the State College of Florida this summer with an A.A. degree and plans to go into teaching.
The speed eating challenge was the idea of restaurant owner Steve Panitch's daughter, Jennifer, who learned about speed eating in college.
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"I want to have waffles as one of my staples," said Panitch, who learned restaurant skills from a chef after he decided to open Jars in March. "That's how I thought of a waffle tower. I could stack it up, then get some of our macho young people from around here to beat their chests and see what they can do to it."
Getting his daughter, who now works for Coldwell Bank in Sarasota, to help for the evening, he's going to be "the judge, jury and everything else."
There will also be a raffle, from which all proceeds will go to Church of the Braden River's mission trip.
"I've never seen him so happy," said Jennifer Panitch. "My dad spends all of his time in the kitchen so he does his best to meet the needs of the people who come in the door. It doesn't feel like you're in a restaurant, but like you're in a house or at a social event that's comfortable. It's great for the kids and he's got a lot of waffle options, kids waffles. Anybody's happy."
Jars serves breakfast and lunch, but is open for supper Thursdays and Fridays.
"Last night we had a
guitar player here and we had about 35 people. We had several groups come in. It's been good," said the businessman, who also specializes in gourmet peanut butter including peanut butter, light chocolate, dark chocolate and cinnamon raisin.
The name Jars is actually an acronym for the names of the Panitch family -- his daughter Jennifer, father Al, stepmother Rose and himself, Steve. "I came up with the name at about two in the morning, fumbling through names and acronyms I could call the place. It had been called the Garden before," he said. "We wanted to keep the Cafe, but we needed a name in front."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.