Competition Sees Samaritan Take People’s Choice; Other Awards Presented

(WATERTOWN, NY) — The Volunteer Transportation Center hosted the return of the in-person portion of its Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off Saturday, Feb. 25, drawing hundreds to the Dulles State Office Building in Watertown. This marked the competition’s first year back to its traditional in-person format since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The event — which raises money for the Volunteer Transportation Center to fund crucial transportation to medical appointments and grocery shopping trips for local veterans and their families — is estimated to have raised more than $30,000, returning to pre-pandemic fundraising levels.

“We were so glad to be back at the Dulles State Office Building to host an event the community has been looking forward to since we last hosted it three years ago,” said cook-off Chairperson Amy McEathron, owner and president of Independent Medical Evaluation Company, Carthage. “People were excited to be back and the different professional and amateur teams really enjoyed that in-person, face-to-face competition we’ve all been missing. It was a great day and I can’t wait to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.”

That was a sentiment echoed by VTC Executive Director Sam Purington and Jeremiah S. Papineau, Director of Communications and Foundation Director for the VTC.

“It was great to be back,” said Mr. Purington, “not just to provide a fun, family-friendly event for the community but to raise important funding for the services we provide, particularly for veterans and their family members who we transport.”

“When we looked around and saw all the smiling faces, seeing everyone enjoying the chili, it was a great feeling,” said Mr. Papineau. “Even though we’ve enjoyed the modified format we’ve done the past few years, we’ve all missed seeing each other in person. I can’t truly put it into words.”

This year’s in-person event saw 17 teams participate, with a mix of professional and amateur teams. Attendees were able to taste chili from each team, sampling traditional styles and ones with different takes like white bean chicken chili, vegetarian chili and others. Entries were evaluated by a panel of judges and the special category awards were given by another panel of judges.

In the Professional Category, first place went to the Samaritan Medical Center team from Watertown, led by Shawn McManaman; second place went to the Whistle Stop Tavern team from Deferiet, led by Aaron LaGasse; and the team from L.E.A.’S Diner from Heuvelton, led Steven Bogardus, took third place.

In the Amateur Category, first place went to the Watertown International Airport team, led by Tony Bender; second place went to the Amy Kenney-Keller Williams team, led by Amy Kenney; and third place went to the Watertown German-American Club team, led by Barbara Eddy.

Other awards included Best Vegetarian entry going to Baked, a team led by Melissa and Chris Fitzgerald, Clayton; Best Decorated going to Meme’s Diner from Felts Mills, led by Brandy Snyder; Best Dressed going to Watertown German-American Club, led by Barbara Eddy; Most Congenial going to Garland City Beer Works, led by Nancy Henry; and Most Unusual Recipe going to Samaritan Medical Center, led by Shawn McManaman, for its Irish-themed corned beef chili.

The public was able to have its say by casting ballots for the People’s Choice Award. As a result, Samaritan Medical Center’s team took home the honor.

Other teams that also competed include Stewart’s Shops, Black River; Moose Knuckles, Copenhagen; The Battlefield Eatery, Sackets Harbor; 24 Carrots Catering and Events, Watertown; Empire Square, Watertown; Maggie’s on the River, Watertown; The Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence, Watertown; and Volunteer Transportation Center, Watertown.

During the event, winners were announced for the restaurant-to-restaurant format of this year’s North Country Chili Cook-Off, which saw competition among participating restaurants and businesses in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties. This year, the People’s Choice Award for that format went to Silver Leaf Diner in DeKalb Junction, which received the most votes from people in the community. The Top Fundraiser Award, for third year in a row, went to Meme’s Diner in Felts Mills, which raised $1,000 in donations for the VTC.

Those that participated in the restaurant-to-restaurant format included:

• Beese’s Depot Café, 13449 Depot Street, Adams Center
• Adams Country Club, 10700 U.S. Route 11, Adams
• The Dockside Pub, 11 Market Street, Alexandria Bay
• The Church Street Diner, 107 Church Street, Carthage
• Zero Dock Street Restaurant & Bar, 130 Canal Street, Carthage
• Whiskey Jack’s, 5454 Plumber Road, Constableville
• Red Rooster, 9861 State Route 812, Croghan
• Silver Leaf Diner, 3231 U.S. Route 11, DeKalb Junction
• Meme’s Diner, 31606 State Route 3, Felts Mills
• L.E.A’S Diner, 90 State Street, Heuvelton
• The Blue House, 3736 County Route 14, Madrid
• Route 68 Deli, 4962 State Route 68, Ogdensburg
• Smuggler’s Café, 54 East River Street, Ogdensburg
• Hoof & Horn Butcher and Eatery, 32 Market Street, Potsdam
• Plum Brook Café, 756 County Route 17, Russell
• The Sandwich Bar, 113 West Main Street, Sackets Harbor
• Tavern230, 4173 West Road, Turin
• Black Waters Café and Trading Post, 68 Ranger School Road, Wanakena
• Celest Jamaican Cuisine, 23746 State Route 342, Watertown
• Empire Square, 65 Public Square, Watertown
• Flavors of The Philippines, 568 Bradley Street, Watertown
• Johnny D’s, 1 Public Square, Watertown
• Panera Bread, 21872 Towne Center Drive, Watertown
• Pete’s Trattoria, 111 Breen Avenue, Watertown
• The Eatery, 65 Public Square, Watertown
• The Grille at Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal Street, Watertown
• Two Hot Dogs, 71 Public Square, Watertown
• Jose O’Connor’s, 15 Bridge Street, West Carthage

This year’s in-person event also included desserts created by Jessica Sheldon of Mud Pie Designs, which were for sale by donation to the Volunteer Transportation Center. That portion of the event raised $1,643. Raffle baskets, coordinated by Mrs. McEathron and donated by several local businesses, also raised $1,625. Everything came together to help make the event a success, said Mr. Papineau.

“We cannot thank everyone enough who did their part to help make this a special year for the cook-off,” he said. “We cannot wait to see everyone next year for the 25th anniversary.”

The 24th Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off is supported by “Underwriting Level Sponsors” Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Watertown Savings Bank, Stewart’s Shops, Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, United Food Service Operators, WWNY-TV 7News/Fox28/MeTV, Tunes 92.5/Intrepid Broadcasting, Runningboards Marketing, NNY360/Watertown Daily Times, Victory Promotions, and The American Legion Family.

Additional support comes from “Platinum Level Sponsors” AmeriCU Credit Union, Kinney Drugs Foundation, Price Chopper, Purcell Construction Corp., Samaritan Medical Center, The ARC of Jefferson-St. Lawrence, Watertown Internists, and Haun Welding. “Gold Level Sponsors” include Benefit Services Group/OneDigital, Black Horse Group, Colello Air Technologies, Disabled Persons Action Organization, Keller Williams-Amy Kenney, Knowlton Technologies, NFP Corp., State CS Employee Federal Credit Union, and Waite Toyota.

“Silver Level Sponsors” include American Legion Post 1788; American Legion Post 583; American Legion Post 588 SAL; American Legion Post 789 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 832; American Legion Post 904 SAL; Barrett Paving Materials; Carthage Area Hospital; Cazenovia Equipment Company; Cheney Tire; Chimera Integrations; Community Bank, N.A.; DOCO Quick Print/Midgley Printing; Fuller Insurance Agency; GEICO Insurance; GYMO Architecture, Engineering, & Land Surveying, D.P.C.; Haylor, Freyer, & Coon; Lake Ontario Realty; Northern Credit Union; RBC Wealth Management; Slack Chemical Company; Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists; Transitional Living Services of NNY; and Watertown Hearing Aid Center.

“Friends of the Cook-Off Sponsors” include American Legion Post 1757 Sons of the American Legion; American Legion Post 583 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 586; American Legion Post 586 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 586 SAL; AMVETS Post 265; Clayton Lions Club; Hospice of Jefferson County; Jake Johnson Properties; Lowville Elks Lodge 1605; Meade Optical; Moose Knuckles; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1231; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6338; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7227 Auxiliary; Watertown Elks Lodge 496; and Weldon & Trimper Law Firm. In-kind support has been provided by Blue Mountain Spring Water, Doldo Bros., Dunkin’, Gray’s Flower Shop, Hannaford Supermarket, Independent Medical Evaluation Company, JRECK Subs, McQuade & Bannigan/The Sign Shop, Mud Pie Designs (Jessica Sheldon), Panera Bread, Pepsi Bottling Group, Sam’s Club, Staples, The Coughlin Group, and ZAPET Vibrations (Tom Ellis).


The Volunteer Transportation Center, Inc. (VTC), established in 1991, drives thousands of miles each year assisting community members in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties and beyond. Over the last 30 years, this essential non-profit organization has provided rides to health care appointments, food sources and other critical needs destinations for residents.

In 2021, VTC volunteer drivers provided 26,711 charitable trips over 1,073,435 miles in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties. Of those miles, 470,002 helped those in Jefferson County, 151,954 in Lewis County and 451,479 in St. Lawrence County. That equated to approximately $477,679 in mileage reimbursement for our volunteers. Data from 2022 is currently being compiled.

The staff, boards of directors and volunteer drivers look forward to a time when transportation to community activities and services is accessible to all North Country residents regardless of economic or specialized needs. But for now the mission drives on — striving to provide transportation to health, wellness and critical needs destinations utilizing volunteers and mobility management for anyone who has barriers to transportation.

For more information about how you can help the Volunteer Transportation Center, about its upcoming events, or to become a volunteer driver, contact the agency in Jefferson and Lewis Counties at 315-788-0422, in St. Lawrence County at 315-714-2034, in Oswego County at 315-644-6944, or Western New York at 585-250-5030. Volunteers drive their own cars, set their own hours and receive mileage reimbursement but, more importantly, make a difference in the community. To learn more, visit