Walk in the front door of the new Cooper's Hawk restaurant in Tampa, and the first thing you'll see is that you're actually in a wine shop.
A vast, luxurious wine shop with tasting tables, wine gifts and hundreds of kinds of wine, all of them made and bottled by Cooper's Hawk for their dozen restaurants across the country.
Tampa now joins that group, as the restaurant formally opens Monday amid the growing row of high-end restaurants on Boy Scout Boulevard, across from International Plaza mall.
"We want to make wine fun and easy for people," said Tim McEnery, the founder and chief executive of Chicago-based Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant.
For instance, customers walking to the main dining room will first pass a huge oak barrel of wine that's meant for service right away. Order a single glass, and servers use a long glass tube to dip into the cask and pull out enough for a glass. Order a full bottle's worth, and servers fill clear glass decanters with a tap on the bottom and park them on the table.
Overall, the main restaurant fits in the casual-yet-upscale genre along with Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang's, with an average check of about $20 a person when entrees, deserts and wine are added together. There's a wide variety in that range, McEnery said, with items including an $8.99 burger to a $26 pistachio-crusted grouper entre and topping out at a $39 bone-in steak.
Relatively large for Tampa restaurants at 11,000 square feet, this location is split into a large dining room, a separate bar area, an outdoor terrace with a dozen tables, a pair of private dining rooms and a full wine shop with hundreds of bottles ranging from $9 specialty bottles to those costing $30.
Here, the goal is making long-term, repeat customers. Servers should never rush guests off a table, McEnery said, and the company purposely does not track time guests stay. The whole facility is set up for different uses. The wine shop offers its own tasting events, including a flight of eight wine tastes for $7.
There's also something anathema to most restaurants, free WiFi. "If people want to gather here at the bar and trade apps for four hours and have a cup of coffee, we'd love to have them here," McEnery said. "Because they'll feel welcome and come again for dinner, then buy a bottle of wine, and maybe join the wine club."
That club costs $18.99 a month and includes a bottle each month, plus discounts on wine and invitation to member's only parties. One thing you won't see in the shop or on the restaurant wine list: Anyone else's wines. That's because Cooper's Hawk produces its own wines.
Trucks load up in California, Oregon, Washington and Michigan with tons of wine grapes and bring them to the production site in Illinois, which will produce 175,000 cases this year for sale in the restaurants and shops.
As for placement in Tampa, the restaurant is in the MetWest complex amid many of the most successful law firms, financial firms and consulting houses in the West Shore business district. It's adjacent to the very upscale Texas de Brazil steakhouse and down the street from Roy's, Kona Grill, Ocean Prime, Fleming's and the soon-to-open Eddie V's steakhouse.
McEnery picked Tampa for its favorable demographics, i.e. enough people who can afford $20 dinners. Another location is set to open in Orlando by the end of the year. Just how many more upscale restaurants can Tampa support? McEnery has this thought: "There's room for at least one more."