MUSKEGON, MI – A creaking oak door greets customers at a new downtown Muskegon ice cream shop where the owners hope to restore history and transform lives.
Occidental Eats, 557 Western Ave., is named after the Occidental Hotel, a downtown Muskegon centerpiece that stood at Western Avenue and Third Street for more than a century before closing in 1970 and being demolished five years later.
“I thought what an awesome Muskegon treasure and memories to resurrect,” said owner Corrine Cockream who opened the shop with her husband Eric Cockream this summer.
It’s not just the name of Occidental Eats that invokes the past.
Relics of the hotel like an Occidental Candy Shop box and an old directory of guests are on display. The shop also serves the homemade “one and only Occidental hot fudge sauce,” using a framed recipe from an old Muskegon Chronicle clipping.
Corrine Cockream says three of her family members once worked at the Occidental Hotel, including a great aunt who managed the candy counter where the hot fudge was made.
Memories like these connect with longtime Muskegon residents. A couple who recently visited the shop told the Cockreams about their first date decades ago that was over an Occidental Hotel hot fudge sundae.
“Puts tears in your eyes,” said Eric Cockream.
For the Cockreams, the business is about more than reviving history. The couple also plans to employ people who were recently incarcerated or are facing barriers to employment.
“The name can be restored, a building restored, while lives are being restored, which ultimately impacts the community,” said Eric Cockream who relocated to Muskegon when he was released from prison in 2015.
Corrine Cockream dreamed of opening an ice cream shop after 25 years working in an office. She also wanted to be an employer after seeing the “everyday reality” for formerly incarcerated people.
“We all need a second chance, a third chance, and we like to say, another and another and another,” she said.
The Cockreams spent about five months renovating the Western Avenue building located next to the Muskegon Heritage Museum. Authentic hardwood floors, black and white tiling and ornate frames create a sense of nostalgia in the old-fashioned ice cream shop.
“I would love to see people enjoying food and creating new memories while preserving and discussing old memories,” said Corrine Cockream.
Customers can order the classic Occidental sundae with hot fudge and cashews for $7. Shakes, malts and root beer floats are also available.
Hard serve ice cream from Guernsey Farms Dairy comes in about 20 flavors like chocolate covered banana, peanut butter paradise and grandpa’s blueberry way. Scoops range from $2.50 for a kid serving to three scoops for $5.25.
Occidental Eats also serves hot dogs, which are available with ketchup and mustard for $3 each or with a choice of fresh toppings for $3.75.
“We have the memories, the conversations and the hot fudge recipe,” said Eric Cockream.
Occidental Eats is open Mondays and Wednesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 7 p.m. The restaurant can be reached at 231-375-8970. More restaurant details can be found on its website here.
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