Hunger games Food Network contest boosts mall crowd

After signing up to try the fare in the Food Network’s “Food Court Wars,” people’s appetites just got bigger as they waited behind the scenes for their turns Thursday at the Citadel Mall.

There was another battle in Charleston. Only this time, it was in a mall.

Two local couples competed to win a spot in the Citadel Mall’s food court during a taping of “Food Court Wars,” a new show on the Food Network.

The taping was one of six to be held at various malls throughout the country. The show pits two teams of cooks against each other inside a local mall’s food court, with the winners receiving a spot in the food court, rent-free, for an entire year. The couple who has the most people eat at their restaurant wins.

Kacie Faulling and Topher Pecora were competing as Holy City Pizzeria. The two met during their senior year at the College of Charleston and are engaged to be married.

Their competitors were Chevalo and Monique Wilsondebriano of Charleston Gourmet Burger Co. The couple and their four children arrived in Charleston in 2008.

According to their official website, Chevalo, a Long Island, N.Y., native, was a first responder on 9/11. The couple can be found selling their burgers Saturdays at the Charleston Farmers Market and Tuesdays at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market.

At Citadel Mall, the two competing, empty restaurant spaces were separated by a Japanese restaurant and looked sleek and stylish.

The crowd grew large as people asked what the line was for, and eventually joined, waiting to sign waivers to potentially appear on the show. Signing the waiver also included tickets for an opportunity to try the free food.

The crowd was well-behaved for its size, said Terrance Hicks of Citadel Mall security.

“It’s more than usual for this time of week, but it’s going pretty smoothly. If it was a new shoe release, like when the new Jordans come out, then it’s a little crazy,” Hicks joked.

Both Faulling and Pecora, as well as the Wilsondebrianos, had plenty of support, as friends and family came out to support both couples’ efforts to win.

Due to the nature of a competition show, access was limited to participants, cast and crew. So there’s no telling when the Food Network will air this particular episode.

The show, hosted by Tyler Florence, an Upstate native who graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, is scheduled to premiere at 10 p.m. Sunday. After the premiere, the rest of the show’s episodes will air at 8 p.m. on Sundays.