YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Players, coaches and staff of the Youngstown State University Penguins football team aren’t the only ones racing to kick off the season as game day nears.
Concession vendors are readying their own batch of ideas and products as the first matchup of the year approaches Sept. 3 between the Penguins and the Duquesne University Dukes.
“We’re super excited about this year with YSU,” says Stacey Hoover, a partner in the family-owned Cockeye BBQ and Creamery, based in Warren. “An opportunity presented itself and we thought it would make a pretty good blend.”
This year will be Cockeye’s first at YSU, where it will sell its custom-made ice cream to Penguin fans during home games and more this academic season, Hoover says. “We’ve got a relationship where we’ll have ice cream for all the concession stands for all athletics events at YSU,” Hoover says.
For the occasion, Cockeye plans to create an all-new flavor, especially for YSU fans, says Max Hoover, Stacey’s son. “It’s going to be called Pete’s Feet,” named after the YSU mascot, Pete the Penguin, he says. The company has narrowed down three possible flavors and YSU will identify the one it wants for the season.
Max says the creamery side of the company began in 2019 as an experiment to expand Cockeye BBQ’s dessert business. Once the creamery obtained its wholesale frozen dessert license, it enabled Cockeye to sell its ice cream directly to corporate accounts. “This year, we grew our wholesale arm about 60%,” he says.
YSU uses AVI Food Systems, Warren, to manage concessions for events, Stacey Hoover says. Cockeye will provide its ice cream to the concession areas where it will be sold through AVI’s service operations. The initial order for YSU isn’t huge, she acknowledges, but it brings visibility to the business.
Moreover, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“We’ve been talking about moving into Mahoning County for almost four years,” she says. The creamery’s deal with YSU coincides with the company’s plans to open a barbeque and creamery within Penguin City Brewing Co.’s new taproom in Youngstown.
“We’ve done a couple of pop-ups at Penguin City and the response has been good from the community,” Stacey says. “We’re off to a great start and looking forward to it.”
Penguin City is also anticipating another great year with YSU, says co-owner and business manager Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki. The local brewing company began selling its beer at Stambaugh Stadium in 2019 and has established what she believes will be a long-standing relationship with the university.
As its name indicates, it was clear from the start that the company and the university would somehow be joined at the hip.
“Even before we released our product in 2018, I met with Rick Love at YSU,” Lyras-Bernacki says. “When we came up with the name, we knew we wanted to be involved with the college.”
The company selected the Penguin as a symbol of community pride, reflecting on the iconic YSU mascot. “My cousin created our look, he teaches there. And we’re alumni,” she says.
Penguin City began doing business at YSU by providing its Penguin City Light beer at tailgate parties and inside the stadium loges, Lyras-Bernacki says. Since then, the brand and product have received broad acclaim from fans at YSU football and basketball games.
“We were the top-selling beer at Stambaugh Stadium last year,” she says. “It’s fun that they’re choosing us and it makes us want to invest more. It shows us that the public likes what we’re doing and makes us support the community.”
For the last two years, Penguin City has produced a special can for YSU, Lyras-Bernacki says. The first year included the university’s red “Y” logo, while the second year featured the face of Pete the Penguin.
“This year, we’ll have a newly designed can with both Pete the Penguin and the ‘Y’ logo,” she says.
“A lot of alumni have messaged us and were excited about the cans that we’ve done,” she adds. “We’ve shipped cans out to a lot of alumni groups from across the country.”
Keeping a close association between Penguin City and YSU is critical, she says, since each has a major interest in the growth of Youngstown and its central business district.
In July, Penguin City opened its new taproom and brewing operation in a former steel warehouse on East Federal Street. Simultaneously, YSU made efforts to better connect the university physically with the downtown.
“It’s huge,” Lyras-Bernacki says. “YSU is such a huge part of downtown and we have this new facility.” She says some work remains to be finished as the taproom takes shape over the next several weeks.
Rick Love, associate director of athletics at YSU, says the introduction of beer sales at the stadium during football season and Beeghly Center for basketball games has helped to boost the concession business.
“It’s been great. Revenue has been good and it’s bumped concession sales,” he says. Also, he emphasizes, there have been no incidents with fans being intoxicated at games, either.
On average, Love estimates, overall concessions sales during a single home football game stand at approximately $20,000. The annual homecoming game usually attract bigger crowds and thus brings in more concessions revenue, while those games held later in the season, as the cold weather sets in, bring in less.
“We have six home games this year,” Love says.
In addition to Cockeye BBQ’s ice cream and Penguin City Beer, Columbus-based Hot Dog Wally will return for its second year as a vendor.
Love reports that overall corporate sponsorship for Penguin football is strong going into the 2022 season.
Last year the university welcomed new corporate sponsors such as Ultium Cells, which has renewed its commitment for 2022. New corporate partners this year include T Mobile, Johnny K’s Powersports in Niles and Lake Erie Golf Cars in Canfield, he says.
Meanwhile, other long-time sponsors continue to show their support, Love says.
“Belleria Pizza has been with us for 26 years,” he says. “And Superior Beverage – they’ve been on the scoreboard for all 41 years at the stadium. This is our second-best year in terms of corporate sponsorship.”
Pictured at top: Cockeye BBQ and Creamery co-owner Stacey Hoover and her son Max, who oversees the ice cream side.