by Nancy Stiles
On December 9, Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant joins the suburban winery game in Town & Country, complete with wine tastings, a full-service restaurant and the 44 varietals that make up Cooper's Hawk house wine. The menu offers things like pork belly, cheese tastings and bacon-wrapped scallops.
But wait, this is a chain restaurant?
"I understand the dilemma of being a chain but not wanting to be thought of as a chain," chief operating officer and president Peter D'Amelio, tells Gut Check. "We're a chain in how we train and hire our employees -- we're not in chain in how consumers use us."
Indeed, though, this will be the fourteenth location for Cooper's Hawk (the others are in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin). The idea behind the restaurants is decidedly upscale.
"Our goal is for the customer to come into a beautiful, timelessly designed tasting room, that if you haven't been to Napa, it makes you feel like you're in Napa," D'Amelio says.
All of the wines available are Cooper's Hawk wines, which D'Amelio says many people warned him against. The West Coast-sourced grapes are brought to Cooper's Hawk's 50,000-square-foot winery in Illinois where the wines are produced (the chain is based out of Chicago).
"People always say, 'You'll never succeed unless you offer wine from other companies,' and we've heard that. It's our fourteenth restaurant, and we still have not seen the need to bring anyone else's wine in because we have something for everybody," he says.
D'Amelio says the restaurant's whole point is to make wine tasting and drinking approachable, accessible and fun.
"At the end of the day, you end up sort of liking what you like, no matter what you read in Wine Spectator, regardless of what it's rated. What I think we're good at is giving people an opportunity to find a wine that they like through practice or tasting," he says. "I don't order white wine with fish because I read that you're supposed to; I order red because I like it. We're trying to make you feel like it's OK to do that."
Cooper's Hawk is also rolling out a line of proprietary products made with its wine later this year, like merlot-based marinara and wine-infused chocolates.
The restaurant and winery will open December 9 at 1000-1272 Town and Country Crossing Drive, and a banquet facility will be available after the holidays.
"We're very unique in this industry -- what were hoping to bring to St. Louis is the sense of community through the celebration of wine and a great meal," D'Amelio says.