How hot dog champ Joey Chestnut became a multimillionaire as a competitive eater

Joey Chestnut, expected to win the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on the Fourth of July for the 16th time, has cashed in on his prowess as a competitive eater.

Last year, Chestnut told USA TODAY Sports he earned more than $500,000 and his net worth exceeds $4 million.

“You have to see yourself as a business when you’re working for yourself," said Chestnut, 39, who last year formed Joey Chestnut LLC and is represented by Everest Talent Management. "But I never knew how far it would go."

Most of his income is generated by contest earnings, paid appearances and endorsement deals, according to Chestnut, who has eaten as many as 76 hot dogs and buns during Nathan’s 10-minute contest. No other competitor has eaten more than 64½.

Almost all other competitive eaters do it part-time because they can't earn enough from it to make a living — much less the millions of dollars Chestnut said he has amassed.

Last week, days before the hot dog eating contest he has dominated since 2007, Chestnut reflected on his decision in 2010 to leave his job with a construction management company in Northern California and become a full-time competitive eater.

“My mom was worried," he said. “I mean, it’s nice to have a job. You’ve got health care and retirement, all that stuff. So I had to convince my mom that I still had a plan for all that stuff."

A major Pepto-Bismol moment

By 2010, Chestnut had won the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest three times. Yet he still was working full-time for the construction management company and competing in food contests on weekends.

Then came an offer from Pepto-Bismol.

The company wanted him to promote and participate in four competitive eating contests and would pay him $10,000 for each event, according to Chestnut, who said the problem was he'd have to miss several days of work.

“So I ran it by my boss and he was like, ‘Oh, why don’t you just take the month off?’ " said Chestnut, who did just that.

In a 2010 press release, Pepto-Bismol announced the promotion: The company would host four eating contests over five weeks during which teams of challengers would compete against Chestnut at food festivals in Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Orchard Park, New York.

Damon Jones, chief communications officer at Procter & Gamble -- the parent company of Pepto-Bismol -- on Saturday said he didn't have immediate access to the financial information. But as a matter of practice, he said, the company doesn't disclose payment terms with any promotional partners.

After collecting on the four promotional contests, Chestnut said he made a decision.

With the blessing of his mother, he became a full-time competitive eater. Proof it was financially viable came in 2014, when at the age of 30, Chestnut, then living in San Jose, California, bought his first house – for $618,000, according to property records.

During the process of obtaining a loan, Chestnut said there was an awkward moment of explaining he generated his income as a competitive eater – and was making more than $200,000 a year.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, how long have you been doing it, though?’ " Chestnut said. “I was able to show them that I guess I actually am stable."

17 pounds of cherry pie with Goldman Sachs

Joey Chestnut wins 15th Mustard Belt at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest
Joey Chestnut wins 15th Mustard Belt at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest

Chestnut, who lives in the Indianapolis area with his fiancée, said he travels about 150 days a year for contests and appearances. This year, that included a burrito-eating contest in Milwaukee, where he scarfed 14½ burritos in 10 minutes and pocketed the first-place payout of $5,000.

He also devoured a half-dozen Coney Island hot dogs in 60 seconds during a paid appearance at a Detroit Pistons game. And ate 17½ pounds of cherry pie last year during an appearance at a Goldman Sachs' small business summit in Washington, D.C.

He declined to provide specific figures for his paid appearances. But with the hopes of further leveraging his celebrity, Chestnut signed with Everest Talent Management a year ago. The company’s clients include Pau Gasol, the retired six-time NBA All-Star who won two titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Alyssa Thompson, the 18-year-old soccer phenom and No. 1 overall pick of the 2023 NWSL Draft.

“I’m really good at eating, (but) I don’t know my worth," Chestnut said. “I’m not good at negotiating contracts or making sure the contracts don’t conflict with each other. So it was really important."

Pepsi deal a 'game-changer'

Over the past year and a half, the company secured him promotional deals with DUDE Wipes, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, Wonderful Pistachios and Pepsi.

The deal with Wonderful Pistachios features Chestnut in a national commercial, and Pepsi has him in the company’s current campaign for Pepsi Colachup, billed as the world's first Pepsi-infused condiment.

Chestnut declined to say what the promotional deals were worth, but did offer, “The Pepsi one is definitely a little bit of a game-changer."

It has helped change the bottom line, with Chestnut saying 2022 marked the first year his income exceeded $500,000.

Evan Sroka, a co-founder of Everest Talent Management, said he had no comment on the agency's work with him.

As far as his net worth is concerned, Chestnut said he has amassed more than $4 million thanks to his good fortune. That includes buying stock in a company later acquired by Tesla.

The truth is, Chestnut could be earning more. Potentially much more.

Matt Stonie, the last man to beat Chestnut at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2015, now focuses on his lucrative YouTube Channel. He has more than 16 million subscribers and is widely believed to have made several million dollars for his food-eating exploits. He no longer goes head-to-head with Chestnut on the Fourth of July. Stonie did not respond to messages from USA TODAY Sports.

Chestnut said he has dabbled with his own YouTube channel, but it lacks what he loves most about competitive eating. On Tuesday, he likely will pocket another $10,000, which goes to the winner, but said money is not what drives him back to Coney Island every Fourth of July, where thousands of spectators cheer his every bite.

“I love the competition," he said. "The competition is the best."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joey Chestnut, hot dog champ, has struck it rich as competitive eater