The Untold Truth Of Cooper's Hawk

You've likely heard of Cooper's Hawk, a chain that combines restaurants with wine tasting rooms. With over 40 locations nationwide, according to the company', you may have even been to one. Cooper's Hawk is known for its welcoming environment and upscale (but not too upscale) feel. By encouraging consumers to join its wine club, Cooper's Hawk retains customers and builds its fan base.

Per its website, Cooper's Hawk was founded by then 29-year-old Tim McEnery in 2005. The original location debuted in Orland Park, Illinois. At the time, McEnery was the only winemaker. He would make the wine on the property in a 974-gallon tank (via Cooper's Hawk).

Before opening up Cooper's Hawk, McEnery worked as a restaurant manager, according to The Wall Street Journal. After visiting a small winery in suburban Illinois, he developed a business plan for his vision of a restaurant and winery duo. While it was a good idea in theory, McEnery quickly realized why it was not done often. The Wall Street Journal says that after three and a half years of working on his business plan and jumping through many legal hoops, McEnery finally broke ground on the first location. It was clearly worth the effort, as Cooper's Hawk now makes $340 million in annual revenue, per the Cooper's Hawk website.

Cooper's Hawk's food menu is designed to pair with wine

The most unique thing about Cooper's Hawk is that each location offers a full restaurant and wine tasting room. Matt McMillin, the Vice President of Culinary and Beverage Innovation, heads up the culinary direction of the kitchen (via Cooper's Hawk). With plenty of culinary experience working in fine-dining kitchens and opening restaurant concepts in Chicago, McMillin is a seasoned chef who once served as a judge on an episode of Bobby Flay's "Throwdown."

The food at Cooper's Hawk focuses on American dishes but also draws inspiration from global influences. With over 100 items on the menu, Cooper's Hawk focuses on highlighting seasonal ingredients and scratch-making everything in-house. Each item is paired with a specific Cooper's Hawk wine on the menu, making it easy for restaurant patrons to enjoy a delicious meal with a wine pairing. We can attest that their food is truly delicious. You won't feel like you are eating in a chain restaurant, but rather a hip spot serving up generous portions of food.

Cooper's Hawk buys its grapes from international growers

Cooper's Hawk partners with many winegrowers internationally and nationally, seeking grapes from regions including California, Washington, Oregon, Italy, Australia, Portugal, and France. By sourcing grapes from these regions, Cooper's Hawk can ensure that the grapes are grown in the best conditions in terms of weather, soil, climate, etc. without having to try to establish vineyards in its home base in Illinois.

The grapes sourced in these locations travel to Woodridge, Illinois to be processed at the Cooper's Hawk wine factory, which produces all of the wines for all of the Cooper's Hawk locations. It is here where the wine is oak-aged, bottled, and distributed. The winery produces 700,000 cases of wine each year. Clearly, this process works well for them as the company has won over 500 wine awards in both national and international competitions, according to its website.

They produce award-winning wines using the négociant model

These grape partnerships mean that Cooper's Hawk acts as what's called a négociant, or wine broker. Being a négociant is somewhat similar to the process of private label or white label wines, which usually involve a small winery producing wine, selling it pre-bottled to bigger companies, who then add their own label to it. A négociant, however, will sometimes buy grapes from other vineyards and then make the wine themselves, according to the New York Times.

The négociant model can be abused by winemakers to produce overpriced wine with murky origins, but that doesn't seem to be happening at Cooper's Hawk. Almost every Cooper's Hawk varietal has earned awards, including the red, white, dessert, fruit, Cooper's Hawk Lux (their speciality brand), and dessert wine categories. Even many of the Cooper's Hawk wine labels have won awards for their design, according to the company's website.

Cooper's Hawk runs a popular wine club

Probably the most popular part Cooper's Hawk's business is its wine club (via Cooper's Hawk). Cooper's Hawk offers wine club memberships with options to receive one, two, or three bottles per month, as well as two monthly wine tastings at Cooper's Hawk tasting rooms. Most wine club members choose to pick up their bottles in person at Cooper's Hawk locations. The wine club had over 300,000 members back in 2018 and was growing every year, according to the Wine Economist.

One of the perks of being a wine club member is that you earn points on dining and market purchases that can be used to pay for dining experiences. Additionally, you can score major discounts on bottles of wine. If you are hosting a large gathering for an event and you need wine, you can use your Cooper's Hawk membership to earn 10-20% off large quantities of wine bottles.

So what do you do if you want to enjoy monthly wine bottles, but don't live close enough to one of the restaurants? In some parts of the U.S., Cooper's Hawk allows club members to have wines delivered to their door on a quarterly basis.

Being in the club has some interesting perks

As a member of the Cooper's Hawk wine club, you get a wine tasting for two each month. During these tastings, you will have access to seven to eight wines and be provided with tasting notes for review (via Cooper's Hawk). Additionally, wine club members get access to special themed monthly dinner events, according to the company's website. These dinner events include multi-course meals that are, of course, paired with wine.

Cooper's Hawk also offers several international wine trips per year for members. These trips are planned by CEO Tim McEnry, Chef Matt McMillin, and Master Sommelier Emily Wines (yes ... Wines is her last name) and include detailed itineraries of daily activities. Most trips are around ten days long and include many planned events and excursions. Last year, Cooper's Hawk offered four trips: The Wines and WOnders of Greece, Sicily: Italy's Island Gem (offered twice) and Historic France. With all of these events and trips, you can see why Wine Economist called Cooper's Hawk "a wine-centered lifestyle brand."

Cooper's Hawk's head sommelier is involved in the Court of Master Sommeliers

Speaking of the Master Sommelier for Cooper's Hawk, Emily Wines, she is very active in the American branch of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Wines held a role as Chair of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2021, according to The North Bay Business Journal.

Recently, the Court of Master Sommeliers has been under fire, with twenty-one female members alleging that they experienced sexual harassment and/or assault from members of the Court. The Court is a predominantly male group, and several male members have been accused of sexual misconduct, according to The New York Times. These claims highlight a toxic culture that makes it difficult for women to break into the sommelier world, let alone succeed in it.

Following these claims, the executive director of the Court of Master Sommeliers was replaced with a new female executive director, Julie Cohen Theobald, who plans to steer the group in a less toxic direction, according to The North Bay Business Journal.

Cooper's Hawk was sold for $700 million to Ares Management

In 2019, Cooper's Hawk was sold to Ares Management, a private equity firm. This firm paid more than $700 million for the Cooper's Hawk chain, according to Restaurant Business Online. That's not a bad payout for McEnery, who struggled to find investors when was first starting the company (via Cooper's Hawk).

CEO Tim McEnery, remains with the company in a leadership role and maintains a "significant equity stake," according to Restaurant Business Online. The chain's steady and constant increase in sales in a relatively short amount of time made Cooper's Hawk an attractive prospect for potential buyers. Restaurant Business Online noted during the five years prior to the sale, Cooper's Hawk's sales tripled. McEnery told the publication that Cooper's Hawk has uniquely loyal fans, saying, "They are just incredibly passionate about what we do. They feel like they're part of something."

The company hired an ex-Fleming's president to run restaurant operations

In mid-2021, Cooper's Hawk announced that it had hired Beth Scott to run operations for Cooper's Hawk as the Chief Restaurant Officer, according to Restaurant Business Online. Prior to working for the chain, Scott was the president of Fleming's Prime Steak and Wine Bar Group. Fleming's has high standards, making it one of our favorite national steakhouse chains.

Per Restaurant Business Online, at Fleming's, Scott oversaw 65 restaurants that earned a total of $300 million in revenue per year. This will set her up nicely to be able to oversee the success of the Cooper's Hawk chain. Prior to working at Fleming's, Scott worked for Disney Parks & Resorts. There she managed the concept development of the restaurants featured in their many theme parks. That sounds like a cool gig! While she no longer plans animated character-themed restaurants, her prior experience should serve her well as she dives into the world of upscale-casual wine tasting and restaurant duos.

Cooper's Hawk created a red blend for the SAG Awards in 2020

Cooper's Hawk created a unique red wine blend to celebrate the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January 2020. As the official wine of the 26th annual SAG Awards, Cooper's Hawk developed a new variety they called the "Artist's Red Blend". This blend had tasting notes reminiscent of blackberry, strawberry, anise, black pepper, and vanilla, according to the SAG Awards website.

This wine blend was not only served at the SAG Awards show for guests but also around the country at the many Cooper's Hawk locations for viewing parties of the SAG Awards open to wine club members. Additionally, for the month of January 2020, Artist's Red Blend was the Cooper's Hawk wine of the month. This allowed wine club members who did not attend the SAG Award show viewing events to try this unique blend as one of their monthly bottles.

The winery partnered with Ruth's Chris Steak House

According to a press release put out by Cooper's Hawk, in the Spring of 2019, Cooper's Hawk partnered with Ruth's Chris Steak House to encourage wine club members to explore dining options beyond Cooper's Hawk (which sounds like a strange thing for a restaurant chain to do, but fits with the winery's position as a "lifestyle brand).

Here's how it worked: wine club members brought bottles of Cooper's Hawk wine into Ruth Chris' Steak House locations to pair with their meals. Wine club members received 100 wine club points for simply showing up to Ruth's Chris, and the steakhouse waived its usual corkage fees.

Cooper's Hawk and Ruth's Chris Steak House both stood to gain from these efforts at cross-promotion. Ruth's Chris is a beloved steak chain with many locations that made more than $468 million in revenue in the year 2019, and we bet that Cooper's Hawk club members were excited about the opportunity to dine there.

Cooper's Hawk released a Line of wine seltzers

Cooper's Hawk doesn't like to sit out on trends, and the hard seltzer trend is no exception. In early 2021, the chain announced its debut of wine seltzers in a press release. The first flavor, Meyer Lemon, is a light white wine seltzer with crisp refreshing notes of its titular citrus, which is sweeter and more floral than a standard lemon. This flavor rolled out to all Cooper's Hawk locations to be enjoyed in the tasting rooms or at dining tables. 

To be unique, Cooper's Hawk decided to release this line of wine seltzers in elegant glass bottles instead of the usual spiked seltzer cans. These wine seltzers are a great option for those looking for a lighter alcohol option, as they contain 100 calories per serving and are made with no added sugar. They're also completely gluten-free, so they are a great option for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. 

You can pay for meals with a simple signature

In a 2018 press release, Cooper's Hawk announced an amazing new feature called the Member Signature for all wine club members. Previous to this release, wine club members had membership cards linked to their accounts with information regarding their preferred payment method when in the restaurant or tasting rooms. While these cards still remain, Cooper's Hawk now has option to pay via signature in all of its locations. This "sign and go" feature allows members to pay with a signature instead of using a credit card. Members' signatures are linked to their wine club accounts, granting access to their preferred form of payment.

This feature further encourages the idea of community within Cooper's Hawk. Wouldn't being able to merely sign for your meal and leave instead of presenting a credit card or cash make you feel special after a night out? This is an intriguing experiment, and we wouldn't be surprised to see other restaurants try it out in the future.