Making wine accessible, inexpensive and well-paired with good food: that’s what Cooper’s Hawk restaurants have accomplished. And if my math is not too bad, I think they bring several million a year to the bottom line too.
My brother claims that he doesn’t know one wine from another. He does. He knows if a wine is red, white, pink, or sparkling. Regardless of this claim, in fact he appreciates when wine and food pair well, and this is what Cooper’s Hawk makes easy.
I loved the menu. The wine list is substantial, with at least 30 wines to choose from, all made by Cooper’s Hawk from grapes trucked in from California, Oregon and Washington and a few other states. The 60,000 square foot facility in Southwest suburban Chicago will soon be expanded to 80,000 square feet with a goal of 100,000 square feet. Current case production is 175-180,000 cases, according to Indianapolis restaurant manager Matthew Kehret. (The website notes “over 125,000 gallons” a year.) Indianapolis is one of 6 locations in the Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants group; more are planned soon for other Indiana and Ohio locations.
Rob Warren is the primariy winemaker, collaborating with owner Tim McEnery. Warren’s chops include Kacaba Vineyards in the Niagara region of Canada, and Tarara winery in Virginia.
At the side of each wine on the menu
, there is a “bin number”. On the other pages of the menu – appetizers, main entrees, desserts – are listed brief descriptions of the items on offer, and those items also include a Bin Number. There is also a Life Balance Menu, part of the group’s recognition of trends in healthy eating.
I chose the “custom tasting” option on the wine list ($15.99). After my brother and I had decided on our food choices, we looked at the Bin Numbers, and then ordered the wines for the tasting according to the suggested pairings. The pours, by the way, were generous. Our pairings:
· Caesar Salad. Viognier (bin 76). A classic new world style Viognier. 13.5% alcohol
· Caprese Flatbread. Sauvignon Blanc (bin 78). A bit metallic to my taste, but not objectionable. 12.5% alcohol
· Beef tenderloin sliders. Cabernet Zinfandel (bin 94) . A blend of 60% cabernet and 40% zinfandel. Not as hearty as I would have assumed it would be, but a nice drinkable red that’s beef-friendly. 13.5% alcohol.
· Bacon-wrapped scallops with roasted pineapple and a white rice pilaf. Gewurztraminer (bin 73). Nicely sweet but not over the top, and a good pairing. 13.5% alcohol.
Our server presented us with the wine club brochure at a strategic moment, that is to say, after a few glasses of wine. The wine club has some nice features, such as the ability to earn “points” for every dollar spent at the establishment, and for 350 points you receive a $25 certificate good towards dine-in or carry-out food. You can choose to join the wine club in four categories: variety, red, white, sweet.
If you sign up to receive one bottle of Sweet wines each month, you’ll pay $16.99. For the other categories, it’s $18.99.
So let’s say you join at the $18.99 price. That’s $228 a year. (You can cancel at any time, but why would you? The wine pick-up parties and special events for wine club members are reputed to be great fun!)
With 4000 wine club members in the E. 96th Street, Indianapolis, establishment alone, that’s over $900,000 in revenue yearly. (And membership keeps growing! This establishment has only been open for 18 months….). Let’s say, generously, that the cost of goods sold is about $4 per bottle. That’s $192,000 a year. So the wine club brings down to the bottom line OF JUST THIS ONE ESTABLISHMENT, a healthy $700,000.
Of course there are marketing costs. But the restaurant was pretty busy and I have a hunch that that operation covers its own expenses, and then some. The servers are not sommeliers, WSET or other high-priced labor. There’s a lot of automation in place in assigning tables and calling diners by those vibrating devices that you are given when you check in. There’s a wine tasting area and a gift shop too.
I like this model. They’ve got a great thing going. You really need to see the operation for yourself. It’s a great way to introduce a wine-shy public to the concept of food and wine pairings in a way that guarantees them a nice experience.
I hope to meet Tim McEnery in person someday. He and wife Dana have created an impressive enterprise since opening their first winer/restaurant in 2005 in Orland Park, IL. The website doesn’t give me a clue to the name of the enterprise, but I’ll ask him when I meet him.