Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 14, 2013

Whopping contest

Kaitlynd Lear scores 19th place in national Whopper-making tournament

By Lindsay Eckert Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Kaitlynd Lear has a little star power right now, but it’s not from a viral YouTube clip. The spotlight is shining on Lear for her Whopper-making skills. The full-time Indiana University Kokomo student and full-time Burger King employee can whip up a Whopper in 14 seconds. The average time to make a Whopper for employees is about 28 seconds.

About a month ago, Lear handed a gentleman a Whopper she made with her own fast-moving hands at the Lafountain Street Burger King.

“Hey, I heard big news about you,” the customer said. “When are you leaving for Miami? That’s so cool. Congrats.”

Lear later left the counter and rested her petite hands that make Whoppers at, well, whopping speeds on a table. She took a sip of a fountain soda from a Burger King cup and leaned forward to explain her trip to Miami, Fla., to compete in a Whopper-making challenge. Regional winners, like Lear, go there to compete in Whopper-making on a national stage, all sponsored by the Burger King corporation.

“I started here on sandwiches two years ago and I just started watching the faster managers to get faster and find out what they do. You definitely have to use both your hands and you can’t get nervous,” Lear, who competed in track, basketball, softball and soccer all four years at Northwestern High School, said. “I’m really competitive. I time myself. So when people order, I watch when I started [making it] on the screen and then I try to make my time faster than the last one. There’s a strategy to it.”

Lear said she never expected when the Whopper-making competition started in her individual store, that it’d lead to winning against regional stores and ultimately take her to Miami. Lear said her competitive drive wasn’t as surprising to her family as her speed in making the burgers.

“I thought it was crazy. What happens if you move on, I mean Miami?” Lear said. “My boss texted me when they found out I was going to Florida and my mom was so surprised. I said, ‘No, Mom, I’m really fast.’”

Lear, who got a job at Burger King her sophomore year of high school, has set her sights high for her future. The 19-year-old takes 13 credit hours and studies business management at IUK. Lear added her Whopper-making experience could be an interesting interview topic someday. But, Lear said, the best reaction she received about her trip to Florida was from her professors.

“One professor told me, ‘That’s the best excuse I’ve heard,’” Lear said with a snicker.

Lear took her “best excuse” and competitive strategies to Miami late last month and returned home with $500 and 19th place out of 200,000 Whopper competitors.

Lear said she got more nervous than she had hoped she would while standing at the counter in the massive conference center with all the other contestants. Cameras streamed their every move and 300 people looked on.

“I was so nervous my hands were shaking,” Lear said. “Everybody’s times increased. Everyone was telling what their times were then they all went up during the competition from being so nervous.”

Lear typically can make a Whopper in 14 seconds. On competition day she made one in 17 seconds. The Whopper-challenge winner made a Whopper in 12 seconds.

However, 17 seconds still earned Lear a top 20 place, some cash and a meeting with Burger King’s CEO, who gave her some career insight.

“He seemed nice and he asked me [about myself],” Lear said. “I told him I was 19 and going to college while working. He was surprised I was doing business management and he told me there were more jobs for people with store experience and a degree, where you could move higher up.”

Lear also attended a Coca-Cola party with company executives to celebrate a job well done.

The teen said one of her favorite parts was the freedom she got to experience in a different city.

“It was fun going [to Miami] by myself. I learned a lot about doing things on my own. I had to find my flights by myself, get my luggage, get on the shuttle and find my hotel,” Lear said. “There were things you could do with the group or I could be completely on my own; everything was my own choice. It was really nice.”

Lear’s ambition for life sizzles more than anything from Burger King’s menu. The teen doesn’t hold back excitement for her present life or future life and proves hard work can take you to some unexpected places.

“After talking with the CEO, I saw how I could take that experience [at the competition] and where I work and put it in the corporate side of Burger King. They’re [headquartered] in Florida and that’s a long way away, but it was a cool experience,” Lear said.

And that “best excuse ever heard” didn’t set her back.

“I met with my professors during their office hours and made everything up,” Lear said.