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Story Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic.
The mere mention of Hawcock’s Cafe to anyone who lived in
the Monmouth area during the first half of the 20th century brings back a
smorgasbord of memories.
Opened in 1913 by Ernie Hawcock and his wife, Jennie, the
restaurant grew to be the fourth largest such establishment in the United
States in a community of under 10,000, serving an average of 800 customers a
day. For scores of Monmouth College students, Hawcock’s provided a welcome source
of employment, with the added benefit of free meals—an important perk during
Even during lean times, Hawcock’s employed a staff of 40 and
offered a menu that was far from lean—a cut of meat with gravy, potatoes,
vegetable, salad and a drink, sold for just 35 cents. With its slogan “The
Place to Eat,” the restaurant was also the place to be…after dances, movies and
football games, and for the famous Sunday dinner, consisting of whole sides of
beef and ham, platters full of chicken and mounds of fresh vegetables and
homemade bread. Its banquet room was the site of many a gala event, from
college dinners to club socials.
Located in the Holliday Building at 117 East First Ave.,
Hawcock’s initially leased part of the ground floor. In 1922, the Chamber of
Commerce, which leased the rest of the building for its headquarters, subleased
part of the upstairs to the rapidly-growing restaurant. In 1924, Ernie Hawcock
purchased the building.
A native of England, Hawcock emigrated to the United States
in 1884, and spent the early part of his career as a cigar maker in Burlington,
Iowa, before running his own cigar company in Kirkwood until 1904. He then
continued making cigars in Monmouth until 1911, when he and his wife opened a
boarding house in their home.
While Ernie and Jennie Hawcock devoted themselves to running
a sound establishment, it was their son Emory who developed a passion for the
restaurant business and was responsible for many improvements. It was not long
before the cafe boasted a delicatessen, a bakery, a soda fountain and a full
line of salads and desserts. A former Monmouth College student whose education
had been interrupted by World War I, Emory then studied domestic science at
Iowa State University and became the restaurant’s chief cook.
After Jennie died in 1946, Ernie decided to retire.
In 1948 the restaurant was leased to Ernie Sells, who
changed the name to the Marine Room, a restaurant he also operated in Macomb.
Emory opened his own delicatessen and bakery in an adjoining room. The Marine
Room did not fare as well as Hawcock’s and closed in 1954. Ernie Hawcock died
the following year.
Meanwhile, in 1953, Emory had sold his equipment to Barnes
Brothers supermarket and was hired to run its new bakery and delicatessen
department. Despite his advancing years, Emory regretted never having completed
his college education. One of his longtime friends, Monmouth College chemistry
professor Garrett Thiessen (they were both crack rifle shots), persuaded him to
re-enroll at Monmouth, and he finally graduated at age 63 in 1958.
“Doc Thiessen spent many a night in the laboratory helping
me, when he should have been home in bed,” Emory said at the time. A chemistry
major with minors in economics and biology, he juggled his baking hours to take
classes and spent his nights studying.
In 1959, Emory entered graduate studies in the department of
nutrition at the University of Iowa and was appointed to a dietary internship
at the hospital. He ended his career working as a dietician for the American
The former Hawcock’s Cafe building was demolished in 1970
and replaced by a parking lot. Emory Hawcock died in 1974.