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25-year-old praised for ice cream

Cockeye Creamery wins national award

WARREN — Max Hoover is a Grand Master Ice Cream Maker at age 25.

Hoover, owner of Cockeye Creamery at 1805 1/2 Parkman Road NW, won the honor earlier this month at the North American Ice Cream Association’s national convention in Fort Worth, Texas. He also won blue ribbons, the association’s highest honor, for his deep chocolate and strawberry ice creams and a white ribbon for his vanilla bean.

The grand master designation is designed to recognize excellence in ice cream making over a consistent period of time. To win the award, a maker has to receive three blue ribbons within five years.

“This was our third year and the first opportunity to do so,” Hoover said. “I won the first blue my first year in the business and first year in the organization and was thrilled to win grand master in my third year. This is awesome.”

The deep chocolate has won a blue ribbon and the vanilla bean has received a white ribbon all three years Hoover has entered. He didn’t enter the strawberry his first year — “It’s a $100 a submission and I cheaped out the first year,” he said — but it received a red ribbon in its second year and captured its first blue ribbon in 2022.

This isn’t an award ceremony where a batch of celebrity judges pick their favorites. Participating scoop shops ship their product to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where a panel of scientists evaluates the entries to make sure they meet the health and safety standards of the industry as well as using scientific techniques to evaluate the sensory appeal of each submission.

“Cornell has one of the only sensory science departments in the country,” Hoover said.

The association is made up primarily of smaller, independent ice cream makers, not major manufacturers like Hershey’s, Pierre’s or Ben & Jerry’s. Hoover was its only grand master winner for 2022. One past winner, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company in Madison, Wis., started out where Hoover is now, making ice cream with a batch freezer for a single location, he said. Chocolate Shoppe now operates a continuous freeze plant and delivers its flavors to dairy bars nationwide.

That growth is something Hoover would like to follow. Hoover said he tries to follow two mottos, one from a business professor (“If you’re not growing, you’re dying”) and one from his mother (“Sell it first. Figure out how to do it later”). The Hoover family — his parents, Erik and Stacey Hoover, own Cockeye BBQ next door to the creamery — purchased a warehouse in Warren last year, and Max Hoover plans to move ice cream production to that building instead of making flavors in the retail shop.

“Within the next two years, my life will look very different,” he said. “I have 10 wholesale customers and one retail store. I’d like to see five retail stores and 100 wholesale accounts. That’s kind of my goal … When I first get there (to the new warehouse), it’s going to be too big for our demand. My job, because I have a strong team, is to go and build that demand.”

He pitched his ice creams to a major potential wholesale client earlier this month and has an appointment scheduled next week to check out a possible second retail location.

He’s already seeing a difference among his peers in the ice cream industry.

“I’m young, my business is new,” Hoover said. “A lot of these guys have been in business 10, 20 years, and they don’t want to take me seriously, even after winning awards last year and asking the right questions. To the guy I buy all this product from, I’m the new guy on the block. He doesn’t want to do business with me. He thinks I’m too small … But when I’m the only guy in this sea of talent to get this fancy schmancy award, then everybody wants to know my name and shake my hand.”

In celebration of the awards and of Small Business Saturday, Cockeye Creamery will be giving away samples of its award-winning deep chocolate with any purchase this Saturday.

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