WILLMAR — After operating The Oaks at Eagle Creek for 11 years, Dave and Mary Baker are selling the bar, restaurant and event center to the organization that actually owns the building — the Willmar Community Golf Club.
The deal had been “evolving” for a couple years, according to Bill Fenske, president of the club.
In a vote Monday night, the shareholders of the club voted 83 to 8 to purchase and operate the business. The club has about 450 unique shareholders and about 200 golf members.
Fenske said there was “overwhelming support to purchase The Oaks” and a “great enthusiasm and excitement” from the shareholders for new revenue opportunities for the club. “It’s all exciting stuff,” he said.
The Bakers currently lease the space for their business, which is run independently of the Eagle Creek Golf Club. They own all the assets of the business, including the tables, chairs, kitchen and catering equipment.
The Bakers have owned the business since 2008 and did a major renovation in 2014.
Baker said during a lease negotiation about a year ago, the club indicated that if he was ever interested in selling the business, the golf course would be interested in buying it.
Baker, who is in the state Legislature representing District 17B, said being a “good legislator” requires time to understand issues and being a small business owner at the same time in a demanding industry made the time right to sell. He also owns the Super 8 Motel in Willmar and Green Lake Cruises in Spicer with his wife under the name Baker Hospitality.
He said the club made an offer and he and his wife accepted.
“We’re both very excited about it,” said Baker.
Under the new arrangement, the club will own and operate the entire facility. The club’s director of golf, Joe Wisocki, will serve as the general manager and oversee the operations of the bar, restaurant and event center, which will continue to operate under the name The Oaks at Eagle Creek.
The financial details of the sale are not public, but Fenske said the sale is expected to be completed by the first week of January.
The business will continue to operate under the Bakers' ownership through the holidays and will not be closed during the transition. Baker said he wants to assure customers that events — like parties or weddings previously booked at The Oaks that are scheduled to take place next year — will not be affected by the change and will take place with the same menu items.
Customers likely will not notice any immediate changes under new ownership.
Wisocki said he’ll spend the first 90 days evaluating the “nuts and bolts” of the business before implementing changes.
“I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel at this juncture,” Wisocki said. “But I’ll add my little twists and ideas and see what we can do better.”
Baker said he’s proud of what he and his wife and staff have done over the years at The Oaks, and leaving it will not be easy. But Baker said he’s happy for the opportunities it will bring to the golf club and is eager to see the changes the club will make.
“It’ll provide a larger scope of hospitality that is a really good move for them strategically,” Baker said. “To pass the torch onto an operator that will do a good thing is bittersweet.”
When he told his staff about the upcoming change in ownership, Baker said they were excited about the change and relieved to know they would all be offered jobs.
Wisocki said he has experience opening and operating golf courses with restaurants and that he’ll work through his checklist to implement changes at The Oaks. He also wants to talk to people and “see what they’d like to see done differently.”
Wisocki said having the golf course and restaurant operate as one unit will be “very exciting” because it will create opportunities to offer golf, meal and drink packages for families and organizations.
Fenske said the club had been looking for ways to increase revenue at the golf course and that owning and operating the restaurant will help do that.
“We’re going to create great opportunities for events and outings that we’ll be able to package together,” Fenske said. “Being under common control will create a greater experience for our customers.”
After the sale is complete in January, Baker said he and Mary will take some time for “reflection and soul-searching” and may look for another business to purchase that isn’t as demanding as a restaurant or they may work for someone else. They will continue to own the Super 8 Motel and the summertime Green Lake Cruise business.
Baker, who said being a legislator is the “best job” he could ever have, said he intends to run for the Legislature again in 2020. When asked if he intends to run for a statewide office, such as governor, Baker said he has no immediate plans for doing that but said he will “never say never to anything.”