The founder and CEO of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant, Tim McEnery the nation’s fifth-largest winery outside California, has 19 units approaching $10 million in sales volume apiece, and projects $150 million in revenues this year—and he’s just getting started.
A few weeks ago, Tim McEnery was at a supermarket in the suburbs of Chicago, perusing the cereal aisle, shopping basket dangled nonchalantly over the crook of his elbow. He glanced from name to name on the shelves—did he want his favorite, Frosted Flakes, or a more robust wheat bite?—while tugging on his polo, which had a logo of a delicate white feather in the corner, along with a few inscrutable words that dissolved into a wrinkle.
In the midst of his crucial breakfast decision, a teenager, no more than 15 years old, suddenly spoke up next to him. “Do you work at Cooper’s Hawk? That’s my favorite restaurant!”
McEnery looked up, taken aback. The polo had given him away. But he started a jovial conversation with the youth, discussing their mutual appreciation of the restaurant, and then the transaction ended as quickly as it had begun. Never once did McEnery let on to the teenager that he doesn’t just work at Cooper’s Hawk; he is founder and CEO of the 19-unit company that projects revenues of $150 million this year.
For a company that owns its own winery, the fifth-largest outside California, the success is credible. By placing equal emphasis on food and beverage, and amassing a 130,000-member wine club, the demand for more Cooper’s Hawk units is growing.
“In five years, we’ll probably be at 40–50 restaurants, I think, but the number isn’t the goal,” McEnery says. “Doing it well and keeping it interesting is the goal.”
Humble yet confident, McEnery is doing nothing if not keeping things interesting. He has created a restaurant company that relies on consumers’ growing fascination with wine, banking on their desire to join a wine club that encourages them to come to the restaurant to pick up an exclusive bottle each month, and perhaps dine there while they’re on premise. McEnery’s proclivity for entrepreneurship and his understanding of consumer preferences are fueling his business and gaining him looks from around the industry.
“We have people picking up their wines of the month who just got done working at the car wash all the way up to some incredible executives,” McEnery, 38, says. “It’s really across the board with the wine club, which makes me very excited.”
The varied demographics participating in the wine club echoes the customers who dine at Cooper’s Hawk. As McEnery says, he hears teenagers at the grocery store call Cooper’s Hawk their favorite restaurant, and he also sees everyone from families with little kids, ladies out shopping, business professionals, and couples come by to grab a bite or sip varietals for hours.
“We did it early on accident, but now we do it purposefully: Whether it’s the menu, the wine program, the design—everything is built for approachability and providing something for everyone. I know there are a lot of marketing people who say, ‘You can’t do something for everyone; you have to pick who your audience is going to be and design it that way,’” he adds. “But there’s nothing cookie cutter about what we’re doing at Cooper’s Hawk.”