TAMPA — A new wine and food concept, Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, is moving into the already cramped local wine bar market with a Napa-style tasting room, full-service restaurant, retail store and wine club.
Opening March 11 across from International Plaza, the restaurant will be the 12th for the Illinois-based chain and first outside the Midwest. Two others are planned for Orlando.
Cooper's Hawk sells only its name brand wine made from grapes grown at vineyards in California, Washington, Oregon and Michigan. The grapes are trucked to its production plant outside Chicago where the fruit is turned into wine, bottled and shipped to restaurants in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
"We source from all over so we can blend California and Washington grapes and produce unique and complex wines that are different than what you'd find elsewhere," said winemaker Rob Warren.
Cooper's Hawk enters an increasingly competitive field of wine bars. Sharon Stewart, who opened the Wine Studio on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa six months ago, said that while she's curious about Cooper's Hawk, she isn't worried about it cannibalizing the market.
"I think there's plenty of room for all of us because wine is becoming so popular,'' she said. "Everyone has their own niche. We're known for being a more top-shelf wine bar. Some competitors are more boutique-y.''
Stewart hasn't tried Cooper's Hawk but expects the concept will do well, provided the wine is good.
Cooper's Hawk has received more than 200 wine awards, mostly regional and state competitions such as the Florida State Fair, but hasn't received much press from Wine Enthusiast or other respected wine publications. Warren said they don't solicit reviews because the wine isn't available at grocery stores or other retail outlets.
"We can put our $20 bottle against any other $20 bottle and feel confident we would come out on top,'' he said. "We have some entry-level wines for people getting into the wine world and we've got wines for people who are very knowledgeable in wines.''
The winery serves 40 different wines, each paired with menu items ranging from pistachio crusted grouper to red wine and mustard short ribs. In a departure from typical restaurant pricing strategy, buying wine at the 350-seat restaurant costs the same as buying it in the store, $12 to $40 a bottle. Restaurant wine drinkers pay a corkage fee, and tastings of eight wines start at $7.
Jennifer Bingham, a certified sommelier who owns Cru Cellars on MacDill Avenue in Tampa, visited a Cooper's Hawk near Chicago several years ago and rated the wine "decent but not amazing.'' More impressive, she said, was the business model.
"Their profit margins have got to be really high because they are bypassing all the distributors,'' she said. "It's pretty brilliant. It's a business, though. There's no romance of a winery.''
Cooper's Hawk was founded in 2005 by Tim McEnery, who started in the hospitality business as a dishwasher at age 11. He saw an opportunity to build off the popular brew pub trend with an unusual dining experience centered around wine.
The company chose Tampa because of the high number of wine club members from the area and large population of Midwest transplants. It also liked the location in the MetWest complex at 4110 W Boy Scout Blvd. near the mall and specifically the Cheesecake Factory, which targets a similar, upscale clientele.
Cooper's Hawk has 60,000 wine club members who pay $18.99 a month for a bottle of red or white wine made exclusively for members. The wine must be picked up at the restaurant. To ship it costs more.
The company was forecast to reach $75 million in revenue in 2012.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.