Cockeye BBQ Will Set the Table at New Brewery

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Cockeye BBQ will open a second location at the soon-to-open Penguin City Brewery in what seems like a match made in Mahoning Valley heaven.

The move will put the popular barbecue restaurant and creamery – a landmark on Warren’s west side – under the same roof as Youngstown’s namesake beer.

The owners of both businesses got together at the downtown Youngstown brewery Tuesday afternoon, amid the sound of construction work, to talk about their partnership.

Barbecued meats and draft beer just go together, and the owners of the two businesses see a lot to admire in the other’s success.

 “I thought ‘these guys have their act together,’” said Erik Hoover, who owns Cockeye with his wife, Stacey, when they were first approached by Penguin City owners Richie Bernacki and his wife, Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki.

“The branding, the business model, the ambition,” Hoover continued. “I was impressed.”

Bernacki said the feeling is mutual.

“I can’t even believe it worked out,” he said. “It’s a really good combination.”

The Penguin City brewpub at 460 E. Boardman St. will open to the public in a matter of weeks, while the barbecue restaurant is expected to open in November.

The massive and airy building, a former steel company warehouse, is still a work in progress. Contractors have nearly completed the installation of plumbing, air handling and electricity systems, and will soon begin giving the interior its finished look.

“It looks like it’s in shambles, but a lot of the heavy lifting has been done,” Bernacki said.

An entrance vestibule has been added and the framework of a massive bar is in place.

A restroom area has been roughed in and awaits painting. Giant ceiling fans loom overhead on the ceiling.

Bernacki, who is the brewer, pointed to the elevated rear section of the building, where he’ll be spending most of his time.

“On that level, you can see the tanks that are almost in place,” he said. “We’re still working on the steam and glycol lines.”

Plans are still on pace to open at some point in May. “I’m hoping to test our brewing system at the beginning of the month,” Bernacki said.

The bar is about halfway back from the entrance. “Cockeye will be up front,” Bernacki said. “They’ll do the food, and we’ll do the drinks.”

Construction of a kitchen will begin once the bar area is complete. A large seating area with picnic-style tables and a capacity of at least 200 people will be between the bar and the kitchen.

Hoover says opening a second location is a big step and wasn’t something that was part of his original plan.

“We’re just a little mom and pop business,” he said. “But as time went by, we became more successful, and word spread. Pretty soon there was a line outside the door and I had twice as many cooks, and had to build an addition to hold all of the meat I was going to smoke.”

When the graduate of Johnson and Wales culinary school in Charleston, S.C., and his wife first opened in 2015, they viewed it as a way to work together now that their kids were grown, and maybe lead a life of semi-retirement.

But the barbecue was just too good, and folks began flocking to the humble 42-seat eatery and takeout place on Parkman Road.

When their adult children, Ben and Max, entered the business a couple years later, a new plan was in place.

Cockeye would add homemade ice cream, which also proved to be a hit.

The creamery, run by Ben, was constructed at the far end of Cockeye’s parking lot. The ice cream will also be sold at Penguin City Brewery.

Cockeye employs 36 in Warren. Hoover said he will hire at least that many for the new location.

He’ll also simplify the menu at the Youngstown site – at least at first – but will offer all of the staples.

“The menu will be slightly smaller,” he said, noting that the daily specials at the Warren location, which are made to order, will not be offered initially. He’ll focus on the top sellers  and make sure the same high quality is replicated at the new site before enlarging the menu.

“[Customers] are going to want ribs and pulled pork sandwiches and we’ll have them,” Hoover said.

One thing that will remain the same is Cockeye’s spirit.

“We have 36 hungry and aggressive team members who wake up thinking barbecue,” he said. “It’s us against the world!”

Pictured at top: Erik Hoover, co-owner of Cockeye BBQ, stands inside the future home of Penguin City Brewing in downtown Youngstown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.