Innovating in a pandemic: Cooper’s Hawk turns virtual into reality
Matt McMillin, V.P. of Culinary and Beverage Innovation for Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants, discussed what innovating customer engagement has meant to Cooper’s Hawk during COVID-19. Cooper’s Hawk operates 43 corporate-owned restaurant locations across the U.S. and ranks as the 28th largest winery in the states with the largest wine club in the world (nearly 400,000 members).
Q. COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry hard. How did Cooper’s Hawk respond?
A. We rolled up our sleeves and figured it out. Initially we significantly cut down our menu to our guest’s favorite options in order to provide a safe carryout and delivery experience and safe restaurant environment for our staff.
We offered holiday meals (i.e. Mother’s Day), added hot and cold carry-out options, created outdoor dining spaces, and initiated a series of virtual events to engage our guests and wine club members. People come to Cooper’s Hawk for an experience. We wanted to use this time as an opportunity to create virtual experiences for our guests while they’re at home, and a safe experience in the restaurants as they’ve reopened.
Q. What virtual experiences did you create?
A. We created a virtual “Friends of Cooper’s Hawk” series for wine club members spot-lighting members of our team and famous chefs as they prepare meals together. The club members receive the same meals in a kit (ready to heat and serve) and dine along.
Our first event featured Chef Jean-Charles Boisset to celebrate our July wine of the month, Liberté, with an at-home charcuterie kit. Chef Fabio Viviani walked guests through a virtual three-course Italian meal of Cheesy Pull-Apart Bread, Truffled Gnocci, and Mom’s Tiramisu. Chef Richard Blaise virtually provided cooking tips from California and interreacted with guests with his Charred Prime Skirt Steak & Fingerling Potatoes, Roasted Broccolini and Salsa Verde, Cooper’s Hawk Pretzel Bread and Butter, and Wild Blueberry Limoncello Buttercake.
I turned my home kitchen into a mini production studio for “chef hack” videos such as “how to peel a mango,” and live cooking demonstrations and meal experiences. I made cacio e pepe for a cooking demo from pantry staples, deviled egg salad for Easter, guacamole for Cinco de Mayo, and we shot live meal experiences such as a brunch featuring Cooper’s Hawk Baked Pretzel Bread French Toast with Master Sommelier Emily Wines. We also launched the hashtag #cheerschain to virtually raise our glasses together through social media.
Q. How will you continue innovating throughout the pandemic?
A. We’re listening to our guests. We’ve begun adding back items to the menu based on guest feedback; they’re looking for comfort and consistency. We reopened on-premises dining rooms, tasting rooms, and event spaces, but we’re pivoting daily based on the COVID-19 environment.
Our biggest lesson is that we can engage with our guests virtually and create experiences that they’re excited about and love. We were always looking to create virtual events, but they seemed out-of-reach and we didn’t think we had the resources. Now, we don’t say something is too hard anymore; we’re using our resources to the fullest potential.