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For Generations, Hawcock’s Was ‘The Place To Eat’

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 the Depression.

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 Nursing chain.

The former Hawcock’s Cafe building was demolished in 1970 and replaced by a parking lot. Emory Hawcock died in 1974.

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