Cockeye BBQ Spices Up Growth
WARREN, Ohio – On the heels of announcing that it will open a second location, Cockeye BBQ and Creamery has taken an even bigger step.
The family-owned company 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. Plans also include adding bottling lines for barbecue sauces and other Cockeye specialties that will be made on-site.
The company, owned by the husband-wife team of Erik and Stacey Hoover of Warren, paid $300,000 for the building, which was once the home of Warren Printing.
The Hoovers will spend another $200,000 to prepare it for ice cream production, which should begin by the first quarter of 2023, Stacey Hoover says.
The couple opened Cockeye BBQ restaurant and takeout, 1805 Parkman Road on Warren’s west side, in 2015. They opened the creamery and ice cream stand in 2019 in a separate building they constructed next to the restaurant.
On April 11, the Hoovers announced they would open a second location inside the Penguin City Brewing tap house that is being readied in downtown Youngstown. That location is expected to open in the fall.
The new warehouse building and production facility in Warren will vastly increase Cockeye’s ice cream production and allow it to sell the frozen treats wholesale to stores, farmers markets and restaurants, Erik Hoover says. Cockeye also plans to open additional ice cream stands, which the new creamery will supply.
HOW IT STARTED
Erik is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University culinary school in Charleston, S.C. He worked as a chef in that city after graduating, and developed his taste for barbecue there.
After moving to Warren with his wife, the couple launched a catering business that specialized in barbecue pork, beef and poultry. The catering business grew into a restaurant and then added a creamery.
Launching an ice cream line had long been on Erik’s mind.
“It’s a fairly expensive process in terms of the equipment that is needed to make it at scale,” he says. “I had been thinking about it for a few years. I watched 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 to open additional ice cream “scoop” shops, as he calls them.
They are still working under that business model, but not in the order they originally planned. The Penguin City offer was just too good to pass up, Stacey says.
“Penguin City will be our second ice cream shop,” Stacey says. “Then we’ll open more in years 3, 4 and 5. Once the creamery is up and running, we’ll have the capacity to take care of several shops.”
The current creamery building will remain open after the new facility opens, but only for retail sales.
One motivating factor for the decision to expand was the interest of the Hoovers’ sons, Ben and Max, in the business.
Ben is a barbeque chef and a leader of the kitchen staff, while Max leads the creamery side.
With the company becoming a total family affair, the Hoovers say they were ready to take it to the next level.
“We could have done] one of two things – open 10 more scoop shops, or get into wholesaling,” Erik says. They went with wholesaling first but the shops will come later.
Work on the Chestnut Street plant will begin once its sole tenant, Color 3 Embroidery, vacates the building in a few months.
“We are poised to do some real work in this town and create a lot of jobs,” Stacey says.
Erik echoes that sentiment.
“We are like a 10-speed bicycle, and it feels like we are in 10th gear,” he says, describing the company’s maxed-out production levels.
“It’s exciting to get into manufacturing. It’s a whole new set of standards. I always wished I could bring manufacturing back to my town. I can’t make steel, but I can make food. We’re going to be doing what we are doing now, but on a scale of 100 times bigger.”
PORK AND FAMILY
After falling in love with barbecue in South Carolina, Erik not only learned how to make it, but devoted his life to it.
It’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that involves seasoning meats and then smoking them overnight in his two industrial-size smokers, using hickory wood.
“Last night we loaded in 250 pounds of pork, and we had it cooked by 8 a.m.,” Erik says. “We do that five nights a week” during the winter months and expand to 300 pounds of pork per night in the warmer months.
He also processes similarly large quantities of beef brisket, chicken and pork ribs every day.
While the price of meat and poultry skyrocketed over the winter, it has fallen back into line.
“My biggest concern now is cream,” Erik says. “Dairy is very high. So is cheese.”
The price of takeout containers and utensils is also high. “COVID forced every restaurant to get into carryout, so they all started buying plastic forks and spoons,” Erik says. “The disposables market is out of control.”
Barbecue has always been a big part of the Hoover family.
When their sons were young, Erik and Stacey were on the barbecue competition circuit. They did a lot of traveling – and won a lot of awards.
“We did it as a family,” Stacey says. “Then we started to make barbecue out of our house for parties. When we bought [the Parkman Road building], it was supposed to be just for our catering business. But once you start making an investment in infrastructure, you have to think about monetizing it.”
With their two sons now part of the business, as well as an army of cooks and other staffers, growth remains very much on their minds.
And with barbeque sauce production moving into their new building, Erik has a new goal in mind, and it might be his loftiest one yet: create a new table sauce that is as popular as ketchup.
“I’m going to keep trying until I come up with it,” he says.
Ben is fully 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 who brought in Sriracha sauce,” he says.
Pictured: The Hoover family, owners of Cockeye BBQ and Creamery, stands at the counter of their Warren restaurant. They are Erik, Max, Stacey and Ben.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.