Cockeye BBQ Spices Growth Business Journal Daily

WARREN, Ohio – Hot on the heels of the announcement of a second location, Cockeye BBQ and Creamery has taken an even bigger step.

The family business has purchased a 13,000 square foot warehouse at 387 Chestnut St. in Warren, a few blocks north of downtown, and will use it as a creamery, commercial kitchen, warehouse and distribution center. There are also plans to add bottling lines for barbecue sauces and other Cockeye specialties that will be made on site.

The company, owned by Warren’s husband-wife team of Erik and Stacey Hoover, paid $300,000 for the building, which was once the home of Warren Printing.

The Hoovers will spend an additional $200,000 to ready it for ice cream production, which is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023, Stacey Hoover said.

The couple opened the Cockeye BBQ and take-out restaurant, 1805 Parkman Road, on the west side of Warren, in 2015. They opened the creamery and ice cream stand in 2019 in a separate building they built in side of the restaurant.

On April 11, the Hoovers announced they would be opening a second location inside the Penguin City Brewing tap house which is being prepared in downtown Youngstown. This location is expected to open in the fall.

Warren’s new warehouse and production facility will significantly increase Cockeye’s ice cream production and allow it to sell the frozen treats wholesale to stores, farmers’ markets and restaurants, Hoover said. Cockeye also plans to open additional ice cream stalls, which the new creamery will supply.

HOW IT STARTED

Erik is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University Culinary School in Charleston, South Carolina. He worked as a chef in this city after graduating and developed his taste for barbecue there.

After moving to Warren with his wife, the couple started a restaurant business specializing in barbecuing pork, beef and poultry. The catering business expanded into a restaurant, then added a creamery.

Erik Hoover, co-owner of Cockeye BBQ and Creamery, holds up a slice of ribs in front of one of his smokers.

Launching an ice cream line had been on Erik’s mind for a long time.

“It’s quite an expensive process in terms of the equipment needed to make it on a large scale,” he says. “I had been thinking about it for a few years. I looked for used equipment, found a kit for sale, bought it and we were in the ice cream business.

The plan was to perfect their processes and then start opening more “scoop” ice cream stores, as he calls them.

They are still working under this business model, but not in the order originally planned. Penguin City’s offer was just too good to pass up, says Stacey.

“Penguin City will be our second ice cream shop,” says Stacey. “Then we will open more in years 3, 4 and 5. Once the creamery is operational, we will have the capacity to take care of several stores.”

The current creamery building will remain open after the new facility opens, but only for retail.

The interest of the Hoovers’ sons, Ben and Max, in the business was one of the factors behind the decision to expand.

Ben is a barbecue chef and kitchen staff chef, while Max runs the creamery side.

With the business becoming a total family affair, the Hoovers say they are ready to take it to the next level.

“We could have done]one of two things: open 10 more greengrocer shops or go into wholesale,” says Erik. They started out wholesale, but stores will come later.

Work at the Chestnut Street factory will begin once its sole tenant, Color 3 Embroidery, vacates the building in a few months.

“We’re ready to do some real work in this city and create lots of jobs,” Stacey says.

Erik echoes that sentiment.

“We’re like a 10-speed bicycle, and it feels like we’re in 10th gear,” he says, describing the company’s peak production levels.

“It’s exciting to get into manufacturing. It’s a whole new set of standards. I’ve always wished I could bring manufacturing back to my town. I can’t make steel, but I can make food. We’re going to do what we’re doing now, but on a scale 100 times bigger.

PIG AND FAMILY

After falling in love with barbecue in South Carolina, Erik not only learned to make it, but dedicated his life to it.

It’s a long and laborious process that involves seasoning the meats, then smoking them overnight in its two industrial-sized smokehouses, using hickory wood.

“Last night we loaded 250 pounds of pork and cooked it at 8 a.m.,” says Erik. “We do this five nights a week” during the winter months and expand to 300 pounds of pork per night during the warmer months.

It also processes large quantities of beef brisket, chicken ribs and pork daily.

As meat and poultry prices soared over the winter, they realigned.

“My biggest concern now is the cream,” says Erik. “Dairy products are very high. Cheese too.

The price of takeout containers and utensils is also high. “COVID forced all restaurants to go into take-out, so they all started buying plastic forks and spoons,” says Erik. “The market for disposable products is out of control.”

The barbecue has always been a big part of the Hoover family.

When their sons were young, Erik and Stacey participated in the barbecue competition circuit. They have traveled extensively and won numerous awards.

“We did it as a family,” says Stacey. “Then we started having barbecues in our house for the holidays. When we bought [the Parkman Road building], it was supposed to be fair for our catering business. But once you start investing in infrastructure, you need to think about monetizing it.

With their two sons now part of the business, as well as an army of cooks and other employees, growth remains very much on their minds.

And with the installation of barbecue sauce production in their new building, Erik has a new goal in mind, and it could be his loftiest: to create a new table sauce as popular as ketchup.

“I’m going to keep trying until I find this,” he said.

Ben is completely on board with the project. To those who call it an impossible quest, he cites an example.

“Twenty years ago we could have been the guys bringing the Sriracha sauce,” he says.

On the picture : The Hoover family, owners of Cockeye BBQ and Creamery, stand at the counter of their Warren restaurant. They are Erik, Max, Stacey and Ben.


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Edward L. Robinett