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With a supportive crowd of friends cheering on his every relentless bite, it appeared that 26-year-old Forest Park resident Gino Ballauer had victory in sight at the first annual Byron’s hot dog eating contest on Saturday night. But the six competitors, five of whom were men, learned that behind every good hot dog-eating man, there is a better woman.

Spurred on by alternating chants of “eat” and “go” from an enthusiastic group of more than 30 spectators, Samantha Begoun, 21, nipped Ballauer at the finish line by half a hot dog, eating nine franks to her runner-up total of eight and a half. To the victor went the spoils, which included a trophy, $50, and of course, the pride of being honored as Byron’s first-ever hot dog eating titlist.

“This is my first time doing something like this and I did it,” said Begoun, who drew plenty of high fives and handshakes from the admiring crowd. “My strategy was eating-just to keep eating. It was fun and I knew I could win.”

Every bit the sportsman, Ballauer took the loss in stride and relished the fun atmosphere of the event.

“I thought it was going well for me [during the contest] but things happen,” Ballauer said. “We actually did a little hot dog eating at my house to get ready for this contest, and we watched a few hot dog eating contests that were on television. It’s cool that Byron’s is so close to home for me, right here on Madison. The hot dogs are good so that’s a bonus.”

The idea for the hot dog eating extravaganza, which called for each of the six contestants to consume as many of the 15 hot dogs on their tray as possible in 10 minutes, evolved from the collective inspiration of Byron’s owner Mike Payne, one of his customers, and Michelle Hendershot, the event planner for Aachoo.

“We have one customer, Dan, who likes our place a lot and likes the food,” Payne said. “His friend, Michelle, works as an event planner organizing parties and so forth. He asked her to do something with Byron’s. From there, Michelle and I came up with the idea of a hot dog eating contest.”

Opened in July, this is the third Byron’s location for Payne. Working in the hot dog business since 1965, Payne also owns two Byron’s restaurants in Chicago (1701 W. Lawrence and 1017 Irving Park).

“We’re really happy to be here in Forest Park,” Payne said. “Our customers have told us already that we have seemed to have caught what Madison Street is all about, which is to be very polite with our customers and give them the best possible service.”

Payne’s restaurant offers a tasty menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and subs, and recently implemented a well received curb side service where customers can call in and pick up their orders at the front or back entrance. Customers can also place orders online at www.byronshotdogs.com.

Byron’s, a member of the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame, figures to host more hot dog eating contests.

“Everybody had fun with the contest,” Payne said. “Michelle did a great job using Byron’s as a vehicle to get this contest out there, and we hope it’s good for our future, too. We have to give Samantha a chance to defend her title.”