Awards Given for In-Person Competition, Restaurant Winners Announced

The team from Watertown International Airport took home the People’s Choice Award and third place in the Amateur Category. The team also won the award for Most Unusual Recipe, which Chef Tony Bender said consisted of steak marinated for five days with his special secret seasoning.

(WATERTOWN, NY) – The Volunteer Transportation Center hosted its in-person portion of the Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off Saturday, Feb. 24, drawing hundreds to the Dulles State Office Building in Watertown. This marked the 25th anniversary of the competition.

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 $40,000.

Silver Leaf Diner, DeKalb Junction, took home the People’s Choice Award for receiving the most votes in the restaurant-to-restaurant portion of this year’s North Country Chili Cook-Off. Seen here are owner Traci Kirker, left, and “Grandma” Loretta Thayer with Jeremiah S. Papineau, Director of Communications and Foundation Director for the VTC.

“It was an amazing day to celebrate 25 years the North Country Chili Cook-Off,” said cook-off Chairperson Amy McEathron, owner and president of Independent Medical Evaluation Company, Carthage. “We had a great turnout, with everyone coming together for a good cause.”

Meme’s Diner, Felts Mills, participated in the restaurant-to-restaurant format in the cook-off prior to the in-person event and took home the Top Fundraiser Award for the third year in a row. This year, Meme’s Diner raised $1,500.25. Seen here is owner Brandy Snyder with Jeremiah S. Papineau, Director of Communications and Foundation Director for the VTC.

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 a great day,” said Mr. Purington. “It was one of the busiest cook-offs we’ve had in a long time, especially during the first hour. Everyone seemed to have a great time.”

“That’s what I really enjoy — seeing everyone enjoying themselves. Friends getting together. Families. It’s an awesome event to witness,” said Mr. Papineau. “Best of all, we again held a hybrid format with the cook-off and it was a hit once again.”

This year’s in-person event saw 19 teams participate, with a mix of professional and amateur entries. Attendees were able to taste chili from each team, sampling traditional styles and ones with different takes like white 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 Children’s Home of Jefferson County team from Watertown, led by Chris Manning; second place went to the Whistle Stop Tavern team from Deferiet, led by Aaron LaGasse; and the team from Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, led by Katrina Slate, took third place. In the Amateur Category, first place went to the Volunteer Transportation Center team from Watertown, led by Terra Thompson; second place went to the Sons of Sam Motorcycle Club from Oswego, led by Steven Price; and third place went to the Watertown International Airport team, led by Tony Bender. Other awards included Best Vegetarian entry going to Baked, a team led by Melissa and Chris Fitzgerald, Clayton; Best Decorated going to the Volunteer Transportation Center team; Best Dressed going to the North Country German-American Club team, led by Barbara Eddy; Most Congenial going to the Children’s Home of Jefferson County team; and Most Unusual Recipe going to the Watertown International Airport team, for which Chef Tony Bender said consisted of steak marinated for five days with his special secret seasoning. Judges for the event included Mel Busler, Makenzie Piatt, John Dillenback, Lee Hinkleman, Michelle Lejeune, Ann Gibbons and Lindsey Gibbons.

The public was able to have its say by casting ballots for the People’s Choice Award. As a result, the Watertown International Airport team took home the honor. Other teams that also competed include EF Team Upstate New York, Adams; Empire Square, Watertown; Garland City Beer Works, Watertown; Hall Pass Tavern, West Carthage; Joel Pilon, Watertown; Media Shriners, Black River; Stewart’s Shops, Watertown; The Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence, Watertown; The Battlefield Eatery, Sackets Harbor; Tim Wewer Tax Service, Watertown; and the Watertown Red and Black, Watertown.

This year’s in-person event also again 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 $1,317. Raffle baskets, coordinated by Mrs. McEathron and donated by several local businesses, also raised $1,671.

Everything came together to help make the event a success, said Mr. Papineau.

“We cannot thank everyone enough who came together to make our 25th year an extremely special one,” he said.

That included special guests Jefferson Community College President Dr. Dan Dupee, State Assemblyman Scott A. Gray and Olivia Patterson, representative for State Senator Mark C. Walczyk. Both Assemblyman Gray and Ms. Patterson presented proclamations recognizing the event’s 25th anniversary. State Senator Daniel G. Stec sent a proclamation in his absence and, earlier in the week, Watertown City Mayor Sarah Compo Pierce, on behalf of the City Council, also presented the city’s own proclamation to recognize the milestone.

During the ceremonies that day, Ms. McEathron presented a certificate of appreciation to Mr. Busler, longtime emcee of the event, for his years of service. Ms. McEathron was herself presented with a certificate of appreciation by Mr. Papineau for her longtime support and role with the event. In addition, VTC Founder Benjamin Coe was in attendance to sing the National Anthem, as has been a tradition since the inception of the cook-off.

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 and was last year’s winner. The Top Fundraiser Award, for fourth year in a row, went to Meme’s Diner in Felts Mills, which raised $1,500 in donations for the VTC.

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

Spookhill Bar & Grill, 12139 U.S. Route 11, Adams Center
The Dockside Pub, 11 Market Street, Alexandria Bay
JRECK Subs, 210 State Street, Carthage
The Church Street Diner, 107 Church Street, Carthage
Highmarket Inn, 4441 Highmarket Road, Constableville
The Cottage Inn, 9794 State Route 12, Copenhagen
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
JRECK Subs, 7596 South State Street, Lowville
Lloyd’s of Lowville, 7405 Utica Boulevard, Lowville
munch., 7570 South State Street, Lowville
Ella’s On The Bay, 209 Main Street, Morristown
Smuggler’s Café, 54 East River Street, Ogdensburg
Hoof & Horn Butcher and Eatery, 32 Market Street, Potsdam
Saint Larry’s Bar and Grill, 6 Elm Street, Potsdam
Nu Pier Restaurant, 13212 State Route 3, Sackets Harbor
The Battlefield Eatery, 213 West Main Street, Sackets Harbor
The Sandwich Bar, 113 West Main Street, Sackets Harbor
Tavern230, 4173 West Road, Turin
Empire Square, 65 Public Square, Watertown
Johnny D’s, 1 Public Square, Watertown
JRECK Subs, 1201 Arsenal Street, Watertown
JRECK Subs, 605 State Street, Watertown
JRECK Subs, 525 Mill Street, Watertown
Panera Bread, 21872 Towne Center Drive, Watertown
Pete’s Trattoria, 111 Breen Avenue, Watertown
The Grille at Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal Street, Watertown
Hall Pass Tavern, 19 Bridge Street, West Carthage
Jose O’Connor’s, 15 Bridge Street, West Carthage

The 25th Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off is supported by “Underwriting Level Sponsors” Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Watertown Savings Bank, Stewart’s Shops, United Food Service Operators, Tim Wewer Tax and Accounting Services, WWNY-TV 7News/Fox28/MeTV, Tunes 92.5/Intrepid Broadcasting, PixelIt, NNY360/Watertown Daily Times, Victory Promotions, Advanced Business Systems, and The American Legion Family.

Platinum Level Sponsors include AmeriCU Credit Union, Colello Air Technologies, Credo Foundation, Kinney Drugs Foundation, Price Chopper, Purcell Construction Corporation, Samaritan Medical Center, The ARC of Jefferson-St. Lawrence, and Watertown Internists.

Gold Level Sponsors include Bob Johnson Auto Group, Disabled Persons Action Organization, Keller Williams-Amy Kenney, Knowlton Technologies, NFP Corp., North Country Insurance Company, Northern New York Community Foundation, SeaComm Federal Credit Union, State CS Employee Federal Credit Union, and Watertown International Airport.

Silver Level Sponsors include American Legion Post 1788; American Legion Post 588 Sons of the American Legion; American Legion Post 789 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 821 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 832; American Legion Post 904 SAL; Brotherton Trucking; Carthage Savings & Loan; Cazenovia Equipment Company; Cheney Tire; Chimera Integrations; DOCO Quick Print/Midgley Printing; Fuller Insurance Agency; GEICO Insurance-Mark Smith; GYMO Architecture Engineering & Land Surveying; Haylor, Freyer, & Coon; Hilton Garden Inn; and RBC Wealth Management.

Friends of the Cook-Off Level sponsors include American Legion Post 162, American Legion Post 162 Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Post 1757 Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Post 586 Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Post 832 Auxiliary, AMVETS Post 282, Atlantic Testing Laboratories, CNY Office Furniture, DGM Coon & Company, Hospice of Jefferson County, Jake Johnson Properties, Johnson Lumber LLC, Lowville Elks Lodge 1605, Meade Optical, Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists, The Dockside Pub, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6338, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7227 Auxiliary, and Watertown Elks Lodge 496.

Proceeds of the North Country Chili Cook-Off will benefit the Volunteer Transportation Center, which provides essential rides to health care appointments, grocery shopping, and other destinations for residents with no transportation alternatives. Funds raised through the cook-off are earmarked to provide transportation to veterans and their family members, which make up roughly one-third of those transported by volunteer drivers through the VTC.

For more information about the 25th Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off, contact Mr. Papineau at 315-303-2590 or via email at Additional information is available on-line at


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 2022, volunteer drivers provided 26,487 charitable trips over 878,240 miles in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties. Of those miles, 376,604 helped those in Jefferson County, 137,743 in Lewis County, and 363,893 in St. Lawrence County. That equated to approximately $439,120 in mileage reimbursement for our volunteers. Data from 2023 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, 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