by LAURA HAYES
After working for Signatures for nearly nine years, leader David Wilson has decided to retire. Throughout his 40 year career, Wilson has worked for a number of hotel companies — Radisson, Marriott, and Starwood, to name a few.
Wilson joined Signatures when he was semi-retired and working on banquets and events at the La Crosse Country Club. One of the club members put Wilson in touch with Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin, and originally, Kierlin hired Wilson as the maître d’ of Signatures. Now, he serves as president of Winona Golf and Dining — the umbrella corporation that owns and operates Signatures and The Bridges Golf Course.
Wilson saw Signatures as a interesting challenge. “When he asked me to take over the whole thing, I felt pretty proud of that,” he said.
However, Wilson’s career started in the back of the house.
While he never worked as a chef, when Wilson finished culinary school he began working with cold dishes before transitioning to planning events. No two days are alike, Wilson said. “You meet a bunch of different people. I’ve been fortunate to do some functions for some very fun groups over the years,” he added.
Working all over the country — including Daytona Beach, Fla., Lexington, Ky., and Minneapolis — Wilson has had the opportunity to plan and execute events for a wide variety of groups, including the Marquee Village at the Kentucky Derby, the skyboxes at the Indianapolis 500 (including tires nearly hitting the kitchen trailer), British Embassy and Queen Elizabeth II. “The Queen is in Kentucky a lot more than anybody thinks she is — unofficial visits because she has horses on a farm there,” he said. Wilson described the queen as “unassuming.” “Unless you knew who she was, you would never guess,” he said.
The events would take almost a year to plan. One time a client acquired the original architectural plans for the former nightclub Studio 54 in New York City, and Wilson worked to recreate the club in a tent. “Those are the things that are really fun and take a lot of time to do,” he said.
In Winona too, Wilson has helped pull off several interesting events. The property — including Visions Event Center — has been the site of numerous weddings, meetings, and events such as fundraisers for Winona Area Public Schools and Habitat for Humanity. One year, the Winona Community Foundation had a streetscape-themed event where different food shops were staged across the banquet room.
“Our goal is to produce the best experience for everyone every time,” he said.
Since Wilson came on board, there have been some significant changes to the property — building theGrill, revamping the golf pro shop, and building the Summer House. theGrill, he said, brought new clientele to the restaurant. “They complement each other very well,” he said.
While Wilson loves all of the food at the restaurants, his favorite dish is Signatures’ fillet. “It’s a standard. It’s a staple, and it’s always good. I love it,” he said. “I think we have a good range of food.”
Currently, Wilson is phasing out and training Zach Murphy to take over. He plans to officially retire late this year, although he hasn’t picked a specific day. Wilson said that he’s training Murphy over a longer period of time to make the transition as seamless as possible.
While Murphy has worked at Signatures for the past eight years as the chef de partie, he said that Wilson is teaching him how to run the front of the restaurant. He said that he will miss David’s sense of humor. “David is making sure I have a handle on all the aspects of the restaurant,” he said. “I tend to take on a lot of work by myself, and David has been helping me learn to delegate tasks and not spread myself too thinly, otherwise I’ll wear myself out.”
Wilson said that Signatures is an asset to Winona. “In my estimation, it adds a great deal to Winona,” he said. Companies and institutions interview and entertain prospective recruits here, he explained. “Signatures is one of those places you won’t normally find in a small town. I think the fact that it’s maintained and here for the community to use is a great benefit to Winona,” he said.