KANKAKEE — On the week Grapes & Hops celebrated its fifth year of business in downtown Kankakee, majority owner Terrance Hooper, of Kankakee, announced the amount of wine being served by the business will increase significantly.
The reason? A second location will be opening in downtown Lockport, a Will County town about 40 miles northwest of Kankakee.
The first phase of the new location is expected to open in early summer, and its second floor is anticipated to be ready for customers by early fall.
In all, the location at 1026 S. State St. will have seating for about 200. The wine, craft beer and whiskey bar will be nearly three times the size of the 1,800-square-foot location at 251 S. Schuyler Ave. in Kankakee, which opened April 25, 2014.
Hooper and his business partners — Amy Rauch, his sister, also of Kankakee; Sean O’Connor, of Limestone; and Denny Simmons, of Bradley — had been seeking a second location for about two years.
They recently signed an eight-year lease with the Lockport property owner.
The owners noted the Kankakee location is not going anywhere and will remain as the central base for the business.
“Without Kankakee, none of this would be possible,” Hooper said. “Kankakee is our family. Kankakee is our home. Every lesson we’ve learned here in Kankakee will be put into our new location.”
Hooper and his partners are not the only ones seeking to uncork more profits with wine bars.
According to IBISWorld, a wine industry research report, during the past five years, the wine bar industry has grown by 3.8 percent to reach revenues of $2 billion in 2019.
In that same time frame, the number of businesses has grown by 1 percent — now at 1,874 businesses — and the number of employees has grown to 11,600, an increase of just less than 3 percent.
Hooper said the group also has plans of expanding the Kankakee location. He said those plans — both in terms of the location and the menu — should come into focus within the next 12 months.
“We are not done with Kankakee by any means,” said Hooper, who along with Rauch were named the Daily Journal’s 2018 Progress Award’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
Also like Kankakee, Hooper said Lockport has a re-emerging downtown.
“It’s basically the same process as Kankakee is taking,” he said. “I think that’s why it feels like home to us. It’s just a natural fit.”
‘THIS IS FRIGHTENING’
The group looked at many locations and communities throughout the past few years, including Champaign, Ottawa, Blue Island, Manteno, Joliet and Plainfield.
The Grapes & Hops ownership group always was firm on the belief the wine bar would not be a singular location. From the first day of pouring wine, Hooper expressed his passion for expansion.
He did concede, however, that this process does come with risk and some apprehension.
“This is frightening. I always have some fear, and I hold that dearly. We know we have to work incredibly hard,” he said.
Long weeks soon will become even longer.
“But we firmly believe this is going to be a turning point for our business,” Hooper said. “We believe we really have something here. We know sequels are always harder than the first.
“The question we face is ‘How do we do better?’ That’s the challenge.”
Hooper also knows he and his sister will be spending more time on the road helping oversee the new site. He said as much as 70 percent of his time will be spent in Lockport.
Hooper and Rauch also are the owners of the Burfield & Remington building — which is the former Majestic building — in downtown Kankakee.
He noted his 25-year-old daughter, Alicia Hooper, a Michigan State University graduate, will assume management of the Kankakee wine bar location.
He said the Kankakee location has a staff of seven full- and part-timers. He said Lockport likely will have 12 to 14 employees.
The foursome is confident the Lockport location will only be one step of many they take with Grapes & Hops. The goal is to make the business a national brand.
“I have believed that from Day 1,” Hooper said. “It’s one location at a time. And this is not possible without people supporting us here. The people of Kankakee County have been great to us.”