Cockeye BBQ Chills Out with New Creamery

WARREN, Ohio – For 25 years, Erik Hoover has worked with cooking food. But this year, he embarked on a journey to learn the tricks to making frozen treats. 

In February, Hoover’s restaurant, Cockeye BBQ in Warren, started work on a creamery, making ice cream using only Ohio dairy products. Likewise, the flavorings and inclusions are being sourced from providers in the Buckeye State, such as Hartzler Family Dairy out of Wooster. 

“It’s been a slow, manageable growth,” he says. “We proceeded to the point where we were ready to do something to add to our neighborhood, something where I can flex my chef muscles a little bit and have some creative fun.”

With a focus on making food with as many local ingredients as possible, the Hoovers found only two dairy farms in the area separate milk and cream: Hastings Dairy Farm in Trumbull County and Baker’s Golden Dairy in Mahoning County. 

“[Most farms] send all of their milk to different places for pasteurization,” says Stacey Hoover, general manager of Cockeye. “When dairy mix comes from Austintown Dairy or Smith’s, it is milk that has come from any number of local farms. We were just hoping that it might be possible to find a single sourced dairy that pasteurizes and processes their own milk.” 

With the family’s attention to detail in terms of trying to source locally and the goal of product quality, they are able to produce an all-local ice cream. 

“Any local dairy farm you might go to that’s selling half and half, heavy cream separated from milk, you won’t see them,” he says. “They’re selling just whole milk products. From a science aspect, it’s pretty interesting and definitely challenging.”  

The process always starts with ideas developed by Max Hoover, general manager of the creamery and Erik’s son. He and Jordan Gardner, another Cockeye employee, develop the flavor and decide if it’s good enough to produce. 

“My partner and I get to work together to decide those things, and then from there it’s where we can get the ingredients and if we can find them close by, that’s great,” Max Hoover says. “We have connections. In the case of honey lavender, which was a super weird idea, I know a guy who has an apiary in his backyard.” 

If the flavor is good enough before the process continues further, the ice cream goes into the machine to make more. The two always taste test their creations several times, both before and after before and after it goes into the machine to determine if it will be a good product. 

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up and have a good idea, sometimes it’s first thing in the morning before I’ve had my coffee and someone says, ‘Hey, you have to have this ice cream,’ ” Max Hoover says. “I found it hard to balance what do I make because I have literally hundreds a day. People will say, ‘I need this, I need this.’ ”

Due to limits of the equipment and to ensure a quality product, he limits the creamery to 20 flavors at a time. He also uses software to keep track of his ideas and to narrow down the ice cream flavors. 

“We’ve made 30 flavors now,” he says. “We can only have 20, so I have to decide which 10 are bad, which 10 am I going to bank and maybe bring back seasonally, like when cherries are in session, I should have a cherry flavor and, in the winter, maybe a cinnamon.” 

The top three flavors at Cockeye are buttermilk pie, blackberry chocolate chunk and peanut butter pie. Other popular flavors include butter pecan, which uses pecans from Hillson Nut Co. in Cleveland. 

“We did a cardamom rhubarb lime, which I’ve never even heard of,” Max Hoover continues. “That was straight from the top and dad said, ‘Hey, I want to use cardamom.’ and we were like, ‘OK.’ We found some rhubarb and we mixed them together.” 

Both Hoover and Gardner have studied science at Kent State University, which they apply to their ice cream making every day. Hoover is still attending Kent State University, but the opportunity to make ice cream with his family and his best friend was hard to ignore.

“It’s a whirlwind and it’s a dream,” he says. “You get to go into work and don’t have to say hi to your boss and then look down at the floor and say, ‘Oh my gosh I haven’t done this this week.’ For me, I know I’m going to come into work and see my mom, dad and my best friend.” 

Before Cockeye BBQ and ice cream came along, the Hoover family had different career paths. Stacey Hoover says the growth and expansion is the “greatest thing she could ever imagine.” 

“A synergy came together where it was just perfect for everybody at just the right time to work together to continue to grow the business,” she says. “There is nothing like going to work everyday loving what you do, feeling like you’re making a contribution to your community and getting to do it with your family.” 

Prior to Cockeye BBQ, she and her husband ran a catering business from their home. She also worked at WCSC-TV in Charleston, S.C., as producer. She is excited about the new space for ice cream production, the new employees it will bring in and the business it will add.  

“When we first started Cockeye BBQ, we started it because we wanted to make a contribution to the community to grow the community and at the end of the day, we are continuing that project, which I never knew could or would happen,” she says. 

To expand into ice cream production, the Hoovers purchased property next door to the restaurant and doubled their parking. The building will be a walk-up concession stand for customers to purchase ice cream.

The building is nearing completion and Erik Hoover expects it to be open for business in mid-to-late August. Lighting fixtures are installed and contractors are in the process of putting the finishing touches on the walls and floor surfaces. 

“Some of the equipment is starting to be delivered,” he says. “I’ll be down here later today installing our speakers, so we’ll be installing music, a security system, cash registers. We are very close.”

At first, adding ice cream to the business was thought of as a simple project, but it turned out to be more in depth. Up to this point, $250,000 has been invested in the ice cream expansion and Hoover is planning on adding 12 jobs when the creamery officially opens. 

“We’re really having a lot of fun with ice cream without being too up on guard or too strict,” he says. “We have my son coming back into the business full time, so we’re sort of carving out a space for him here to learn and grow within the family business.” 

Pictured: Max and Erik Hoover use local ingredients in Cockeye BBQ’s new creamery.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.