Jess Kittle and his son, Spencer, looked like contenders.
The two Ronan he-men strode into the newly opened Simple Simon’s Pizza in St. Ignatius, ready to tackle “The Beast.”
Joe Culp has opened many Simple Simon’s Pizza franchises; he opened his tenth Montana store this August, in the building that was Cornerstone Pizza in St. Ignatius.
Besides good pizza, one thing Simple Simon’s is known for is their daring food challenge, “Tame the Beast.” The Beast is a 29-inch pizza. If you and one teammate can consume the entire pizza in 45 minutes, Joe will give you the pizza free, plus $100 each. You have to schedule a day in advance, and pay for it up front before they start baking the behemoth.
In all his years of starting, running, and selling these stores, Joe had never had a winner. But he had to admit, the Kittle Boys made him nervous. The two were hungry, cheerful, and big enough that you knew they didn’t survive on bird seed.
They chose pepperoni. The stats on such a creation are thus: two pounds of mozzarella, 200 pieces of pepperoni, and plenty of sauce on a regular — not thin — crust. It weighs in at nine to ten pounds, the size— and calories — of four large (14-inch) pizzas, plus 10%, Joe says.
“It’s not a practical pizza,” Joe says. “It barely fits through our door. It won’t fit in your car door, unless you put it in back.”
Jess (47) and Spencer (24) weren’t here to be practical. They were here for the glory, and the prize money, of course. They had done their homework, watching videos of the professional eaters who have met the challenge. Jess, a long-time school soccer coach, warmed up with exercise a few hours earlier. Spencer joked that he had eaten a burrito. “My mama didn’t raise no quitter,” Jess boasted, “and neither did his.” He had a time of 23:48 in mind as he eyed the 38 squares of hot pizza fresh from the oven.
Ten minutes in, Jess started strategizing. “Maybe, if we tap out, let’s do it before we’re miserable,” he said to his partner. But, when asked if he was having second thoughts, he said, “Oh, we’ll git ‘er.”
At twelve minutes he said, “It’s really tasty. It’s just starting to feel like a lot.”
An audience had gathered, telling them they had “fortitude” and “strength of will” and character. But sometime around 15 minutes, Jess asked Spencer how much he thought he could finish. “I’m going to tell you,” Jess said, “I don’t want to get through my half.”
“That’s not encouraging,” said Spencer, who was closing in on his half. Shortly thereafter, they cried uncle.
To the applause of the cheering section, Jess said good naturedly, “No harm done. Who doesn’t like pizza on a Friday?” They took home plenty to eat later.
Joe welcomes all comers with a smile. “I hope someone does win sometime,” he says. “But in the meantime, they get a good deal on a lot of good pizza.”