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Walter Fisher, VP of design, construction and facilities, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants

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Sitting pretty

How Cooper’s Hawk is changing the game for winery/ restaurant dining

The rejections came first.

That typically happens in the restaurant game. But Tim McEnery isn't one to give up. And he didn't. He kept plugging away until he found some investors to help bring his vision to life.

The vision is Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants, which brings mostly everything people love in the way of hospitality under one roof: an upscale casual dining restaurant, full-service bar, private dining room, and Napa-style tasting room and retail gift store.

At just 29, in Orland Park, Illinois, McEnery set out to create a community of people who love good food and fine wine. Today, Cooper's Hawk is the place where wine and culinary connoisseurs can be a part of a community of the best of the best. For example, its Wine Club uniquely combines the best of subscription and loyalty based business models.

And the Cooper’s Hawk winery, located in Woodridge, Illinois, has forged grape-growing partnerships with some of the world’s premier vineyards, importing grapes from a variety of regions, including California, Oregon, Chile, Argentina, Australia and Italy. The relationships has resulted in the creation of more than 50 varietals of artisanal and award-winning wines.

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Guests are encouraged to sip, learn, dine and share in well-appointed tasting rooms and meticulously designed restaurant spaces, while its membership-club community approach enables them to participate in travel, wine classes and events such as seasonal gourmet dinners hosted by the group’s executive Chef.

Commercial Construction & Renovation sat down with Walter Fisher, VP of design, construction and facilities, to get his take on where the Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants brand is heading and how it continues to create communities that last.

Give us a snapshot of Cooper's Hawk brand?

Handcrafted wines, modern casual dining, people who care, and creating a community and life memories.

What type of consumer are you targeting?

Everyone. In a community you have all walks of life at all ages and we pride ourselves in creating community.

How does the design of the facility cater to how today's consumers' shop?

As soon as you walk into the door you see all of our retail products beautifully displayed in a way that naturally leads you past them to arrive at the host stand. The tasting bar wine wall is beautiful millwork with our award-winning wines displayed.

Treat a person right, give them a value for their dollar with great wine and food and they will come back.

Walk us through how and why the facility are designed the way they are?

We design the space to have a great guest experience with the proper operational flow. The dining and bar spaces are designed to see and feel the energy from each space. The retail space is to welcome you when you first walk in and give you that “wow” factor of our wine wall and smiling attendants ready to serve you.

Take us through your construction and design strategy.

I always joke that since my department also runs facilities, you tend to design and build them differently if your phone rings

Adam Chada with Cosgrove Construction and Walter Fisher

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on a Saturday night due to something failing. We aim to design buildings that are simple, timeless and beautiful, not busy, trendy and overwhelming. We try to focus on spending money in design that’s impactful to all guests.

In construction, we study the products and processes of installs to collaborate with design in selecting the materials we select to allow for the best timeframes when building them and durability for facilities.

What's the biggest issue today related to the construction side of the business?

Trust. Most often you hear this answered with the rising costs or lead times of materials, the GC hitting their dates, staying on budget. In my opinion, those are everyday issues that exist now and will exist 15 years from now. To me, it is all about trust. Can you trust the people you have hired to have your best interest in mind during the process?

You always have change orders, you always have weather, you always have

Our success is amazing and an incredible experience, and with that comes the opportunity for growth.

obstacles in construction, but when they happen, can you trust the team around you are all working toward the same goal? Can you trust they have thought of every possible way to be more efficient with their time? Can you trust they are giving you the best pricing? Can you trust they will hit their dates? Can you trust what they say?

If you trust them, your work day is not only much easier, it is much happier. I am fortunate to have trust with the partners we work with.

Talk about sustainability. What are you doing?

Creating partners with all aspects of business to allow the best pricing, timing and processes while focusing on every guest that enters our restaurant. With our wine club, we are always having special guest events, traveling events to other countries, and much more. Every month there is something new for our wine club members so it always new and exciting for our guests.

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What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead?

Consistency. With growth comes the potential to slip with consistency and what we have learned is that our wine club members love to travel to multiple locations. If we are not providing the same dish in Florida as we served in Virginia, we are not hitting our goals. We train diligently to ensure the consistency is at every level of the business equal from location to location.

Are you optimistic about what you see in the retail sector?

We are very optimistic about what the future holds for Cooper’s Hawk and our retail products that we have to offer in our tasting rooms. Our retail team has done a tremendous job selecting our products which the guests love.

Why did you pick the locations you did for your stores?

Our real estate team, led by Jo-El Quinlan, does tremendous due diligence on every location ensuring we hit all parameters required for us to be successful.

From left to right: Nick Fox, Fox Consulting; Jen Lingle, Development Coordinator; Terry Companik, Facility Manager; Walter Fisher, VP of Design, Construction and Facilities; Jen Kaufmann, Director of Construction; Rob Sellergren, Project Manager; Lauren Williams, Design Manager

What is your growth plan? What areas are you targeting?

We currently are trying to grow 20 percent year-over-year. We are targeting a cluster approach where we slowly grow in a market

We care about people; we are different; we are committed to being the best; we have fun and celebrate.

and expand outward. The great thing is that we have plenty of opportunity to grow as we are just getting started.

What trends are you seeing?

After working with Cooper’s Hawk for 11 years, the one trend I have seen year after year is that trends do not impact us. We are not trendy; we are a family. We are creating communities in each location by sharing life experiences with each guest. We are very consistent no matter what the current trend may be.

Matt Munn with Cosgrove Construction and Walter Fisher

What is the secret to creating a "must visit" place in today's competitive landscape?

Treat a person right, give them a value for their dollar with great wine and food and they will come back. People come to Cooper’s Hawk not to see over the top finishes or designs, they come to us for a value; they come to us for great wine and food; they come to us because we treat them great

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and put smiles on their faces. The design is just an extra perk they get to enjoy as our spaces are beautiful, but it is not to lure people in, it is to say thank you for coming and hope you feel at home.

What is today's consumer looking for?

Experiences.

What's the biggest item on your to-do list right now?

Preparing and planning for the future by simplifying all that we do. Our success is amazing and an incredible experience, and with that comes the opportunity for growth. But every location needs to be equally as important to us as the first one built, they are all equal. In order to do that we need to have the proper people in place and ensure we can support the work by dedicating the proper time to each project.

Describe a typical day.

The only thing typical in my day is that it will not be a typical day. Between travel, projects, people and just life, every day is an adventure and you just need to smile and make the most if it.

Tell us what makes the Cooper's Hawk brand so unique?

We care about people; we are different; we are committed to being the best; we have fun and celebrate. Those also happen to be our core values for our company, the difference is people feel them when they visit us which is why we are unique, if everyone was successful at this it would be easy, and everyone knows operating a restaurant is far from easy. Also our Wine Club is the best in the world, in my opinion. CCR

One-on-one with...

Walter Fisher

VP of Design & Development, Cooper’s Hawk Winery

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Watching my team take on new roles and growing with the company. When we are all expanding roles and responsibilities, it is an amazing feeling to continue your growth with your career.

What was the best advice you ever received? If I want people to respect what I am saying, I first need to show them respect in how I am speaking

to them. Craig Steiner, an old co-worker and still a friend to this day, told me this in Kansas City one day on a project. I always remembered this advice.

What’s the best thing a client ever said to you?

Currently, with the role I am in, operations is my client. So when I am told by operations that we had a tremendously smooth turnover and they feel great about what we just accomplished, that is the best thing to hear from my client.

Name the three strongest traits any leader should have and why. The ability to understand the people they are leading, the ability to guide and mentor those same people and, most importantly, the ability to listen.

What is the true key to success for any manager? You often hear, you need to have

the ability to create schedules and efficient processes through the routines of the business and evaluate people during the process placing them in the proper position to succeed—and it would not be wrong. And if you do not have the three traits above, you will typically not achieve this answer, so you need to treat people right first. That is the key to success at anything, in my opinion.

How do you like to spend your down time? I love the outdoors and spending time with my family. I am blessed with an incredibly supportive wife and two amazing kids whom I wish I could spend every minute with. That would probably not be their wish at all, but I would love it. We do a lot as a family, and we are always laughing and creating family memories.

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