“We’re bringing the wineries to the people,” says Waters Edge Winery president and founder Ken Lineberger.
That’s the idea behind up-and-coming restaurant chain Waters Edge, a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based winery that doesn’t require franchisees to have acres upon acres. There are no vineyards involved.
With almost 20 locations in states including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Montana and Florida, Waters Edge is bringing the winery experience to places that don’t have the soil to support a vineyard – and the franchisees who want to invest without the headache of being a wine master.
“The thing that I capitalize on is that 80% of the wineries in the U.S. are in just six states and so our goal is to bring the winery experience to the other 44 states,” Lineberger said.
The brand grew 17% in unit count in 2020 despite the pandemic and expects to grow 100% in the same category this year. That will put the brand at around 20 units, with plans to be between 30 and 40 by the end of 2022.
But without the vineyards, how are the wines fresh? Lineberger has an answer to that too.
Through partnerships, Waters Edge sources grapes internationally for its franchisees from places where the grapes are in season.
“There’s a global supply chain we’ve tapped into and we know exactly what we’re looking for and how to go get it,” he said.
That includes grapes from Italy, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France and more.
Waters Edge isn’t teaching its franchisees how to be master wine makers or how to grow grapes, it’s just teaching them how to make good wine when everything arrives.
“We teach our owners how to make high-quality wine,” said Lineberger, left.
The mastery is left to the experts. Waters Edge uses the others’ expertise to make sure the wine comes out perfectly every time through the implementation of science and skill.
The only thing franchisees must learn is how to make “great wine” once the grapes get to their specific location – without the acres and acres of land.
In fact, the square footage target for a Waters Edge location is just 2,500 to 3,500 square feet, nowhere near the footprint of a full winery. And, unlike a traditional winery, Waters Edge doesn’t want to be the destination for a consumer but a part of a longer day.
“We want to be near a movie theater or a business district not on the edge of town,” said Lineberger. He added that most people don’t want to experience or don’t have the time to have a full day at a lush winery, and that this is more accessible to most Americans.
Lineberger said he prefers franchisees don’t come in with a knowledge of making wine because the processes at Waters Edge are unique and easier to learn without any prior experience.
Waters Edge was created in 2012 to “remove the barriers” that keep people from enjoying wine on a regular basis, something Lineberger learned on his feet for decades in the sales business. After having to become a master sommelier on business dinners treating clients, he wanted others to feel the same satisfaction and joy without the formal training or the “stuffiness.”
“We want everyone to be here and enjoy the experience no matter how much you do or don’t know about wine,” said Lineberger.