Client: Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers (Hicksville, NY)
Client: Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers
PR Team: WordHampton Public Relations (East Hampton, NY)
Campaign: Ben’s Third Annual Charity Matzoh Ball Eating Championship
Time Frame: November 1999 through Feb. 1, 2000
Budget: dollars 10,000
Consider the matzoh ball, a small round dumpling made with matzoh meal,
eggs and seasoning and usually served in chicken soup. Nice, but how do
you sell it?
If you’re Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers and its PR
agency of record, WordHampton, you hold an annual matzoh ball-eating
contest where the contestants eat as many as they can in five minutes
and 25 seconds.
(Important contest rule: participants cannot vomit within five minutes
after finishing or while on Ben’s premises.)
On Feb. 1, 2000, after regional competitions at five of its 10 New
York-area restaurants, Ben’s held its third-annual championship at its
Manhattan store, on 38th Street. The event was designed to differentiate
Ben’s from its competitors and to raise money (from entry fees) for the
Interfaith Nutrition Network, which runs soup kitchens in Queens and on
For Ben’s owner, Ronnie Dragoon, a man whose restaurants make deliveries
in a ’kosher ambulance,’ it’s also another way to have fun.
The goal of the campaign, of course, was to generate as much coverage as
possible. That meant trade, local and national media - both day-of
stories on the regionals and finals as well as long-range reports to
cover the soft news and food angles. WordHampton - Ben’s agency of
record - tried to ensure coverage by having as little interference as
possible from other events. For example, the date was moved from
Groundhog Day to Feb. 1 this year.
WordHampton president Steve Haweeli got to work early. He identified the
media he wanted to reach and, in November, sent out save-the-day
He followed up with press kits in December and another save-the-day
before the contest.
Early on, he lined up coverage with the Food Network’s show Extreme
Cuisine and new cable station Metro Guide’s Unblinking Eye, figuring
that even if news broke the day of the contest and media didn’t show up,
he’d still have coverage.
And while the novelty of the contest is worthy of the last two minutes
of a newscast, or a newspaper feature story, having a celebrity on hand
helps bring out reporters. In late 1999, Haweeli contacted New York
mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s scheduling secretary and asked if hizzoner
would show up to hand out the championship trophy.
’We had a feeling the mayor would do this because he’s hit up Ben’s for
sandwiches to feed the helpers when the Yankees have their World Series
parades,’ Haweeli says. They worked out the timing so that he’d come in,
present the award and stick around for a photo op.
Every New York City TV station covered the finals. Newsday followed the
entire contest, culminating with a lengthy story and photo. The Daily
News ran photos of the regionals and the finals. Many ethnic papers,
including Brooklyn Jewish Week, Long Island Jewish Week and The Jewish
Tribune in Rockland County, also did stories.
New York all-news radio station WINS covered the event live. NBC sent a
crew and offered the feed to its affiliate stations; it ran in Houston,
Dallas, Philadelphia, St. Louis and other markets, possibly generating
some name recognition among future New York tourists. Contest winner
Donald Lerman, who ate 12 matzoh balls, appeared on Roseanne’s daytime
In all, WordHampton reports 80 placements potentially reaching 7.5
million people. Plus, the contest raised more than dollars 6,000 for
Did the contest increase restaurant sales? ’My gut, intuitive feeling
says to me that besides creating a branding awareness, it does have a
residual benefit over time,’ Dragoon says. ’But could I scientifically
tell you there was a greater increase in business as a result of that?
Social science would say yes. Science would say no.’
The fourth-annual contest will take place next February. ’The challenge
for us,’ Haweeli says, ’will be to look out for different media outlets
that have not picked up on it, and not fall into the trap of going to
the ones that have already done it before because they like us and know
us. Because it could become old news.’