Love is an odd state. It’s so much more than just a feeling. It may start off as a feeling, but it never resolves to remain in that state. It’s usually ignited by one of your senses. Whether sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing, that initial feeling must migrate to your will if it wishes to remain love. For example, you may fall in love with a certain city while on vacation. The beautiful sights, the sound of the ocean, the smell of flowers, the feel of fresh snow under foot. All of these things may spark a passion for this particular place. If you are truly in love with this destination you must choose to live there. The longer you stay the more you love your new home. You may have never known you loved gardening until you chose to actually live in such and such a town. Bird watching becomes something you surprisingly find an interest for now that you chose to live in your favorite place. Besides our love for each other, Spade and I have fallen in love with the food in the Mahoning Valley. As we to return to our favorite spots, we have found that we have a certain affinity for the people behind the food as well—which is why we created what we call the “5 Course Interview.” This is an opportunity for us to introduce and connect you to some of the amazing people that we have gotten the pleasure to meet along the way. In this episode we are excited to introduce you to Chef Erik Hoover. He is the man who has brought us one of the best BBQ joints this side of the Mississippi. We hope that you, like us, will fall in love with not only the amazing food but the stories and people behind it.
What keeps your love of BBQ food alive?
“BBQ is comfort food for me. It’s family food. It’s food that you serve when you’re having a summer gathering. The smells and rituals of BBQ are something that I never tire of. I grew up on a small farm and our house was heated solely with wood. I was expected to help with the cutting, splitting and stacking of wood in the summer. I remember the creak of the steel door on our wood-burning stove and the slap/clink of the latch when Dad would shut it when the fire was really going. The house would fill with smoke as he would get the fire going with newspaper and kindling very early on cold winter mornings. I hated the cutting and stacking…swore to my parents I would be a millionaire one day and be able to set my furnace temperature high enough to wear shorts. Mom and Dad are no longer with us and I have to laugh when I think that procuring well-seasoned hardwoods and stacking my woodpile is essential in the way I make a living now.”
What’s your favorite non-local restaurant to dine at and why?
“That’s easy. Whitehouse Chicken in Barberton. My parents grew up in Barberton, Ohio and I grew up eating their special version of lard-fried chicken, ‘hot sauce,’ fries, and sweet and sour vinegar slaw. I know it’s not a very ‘chaffy’ answer but it’s true. I will drive an hour out of my way to get me some Barberton Chicken!”
Out of all the spots in Northeast Ohio, what made you decide on Parkman Road for the location of your restaurant?
“I live on the northwest side of Warren with my wife and 2 boys. We (Stacey and I) have been familiar with this building for a while, and when we saw it go up for auction we thought we’d come down and rubberneck a little. We had a pretty strong seasonal catering business and I was looking for a larger commissary kitchen. A restaurant was not part of the equation. Well, ya raise your hand enough at an auction and eventually you’re gonna buy something. Once we were inside and began tearing it apart to rebuild, it was Stacey who decided a full restaurant was in our future. We’ve been very fortunate that not only the local neighborhood people have supported us, but people drive quite a ways to have our version of bbq.”
Being in the restaurant industry for so long, what is your favorite aspect and least favorite aspect of being an owner/operator?
“Owning and operating a restaurant is very challenging and also very rewarding. We are in the food business, but we’re also in the people business. It can be a delicate balance at times deciding which is more important. You will see both my wife and I when you come to our restaurant. We walk the dining room and talk to our customers. There are certainly times when we’re having ‘not-so-good-very-bad-days’ and it’s hard to wipe that frustration or exhaustion from your face and smile when we check on customers. My point is—what we’re selling is primarily food, but it’s also something else. It’s service, it’s friendliness, it’s a sincere appreciation that they chose our little spot to be fed. You have to pay attention to your customers. Walking the space where they’re eating and talking, you can know almost everything you need to know about how well you’re doing your job. I look at the cleaned off rib bones to tell if our ribs were smoked to our standards. I pay attention to how clean the plates are when they’re done. I watch their facial expressions and body language when the food arrives and at different stages of their meal. It can often be an indication of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with our product. And it’s important to react quickly if need be to turn a frown upside down. We do this because we love the feeling we get when someone tells us they enjoyed the food and our restaurant. But the least favorite is when that is not the reaction we get. I’m not perfect, and neither is our food, staff, or restaurant. Sometimes there are variables out of my control whether its customers or even staff. If a piece of equipment is broken, I can repair or replace it. This is certainly frustrating, but people……well…..
Progress over perfection.
This is a phrase I heard from a customer recently. I’d never heard this before. The reality is we can get bogged down over minutia and miss the bigger picture. Does the restaurant perform better today than yesterday….or last week…or when we first opened?”
What’s your favorite item on the Cockeye menu right now?
“Hmmm, tough question. My go-to is a brisket sandwich, sans bbq sauce. Topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s quick to make—I can eat it while walking through the kitchen. Sometimes I’ll top a burger with brisket, co-jack, ketchup, onion, and pickles. I’m an eater of opportunity. Rarely do I sit down and eat a meal here. So a random jo-jo, hushpuppy or a quick sandwich is usually what I’m eating. I’m a craft beer nerd too. Right now I’m enjoying Mellow, a cherry-hibiscus brew by North Peak.”