To Reinvent Itself, Dundalk Restaurant is Just Winging It

Donna's Tavern and Restaurant has introduced a new menu that now includes 99 flavors of chicken wings.

Chef David Gutman and manager Heather Sekora unveiled a new menu for Donna's Tavern and restaurant that features 99 flavors of chicken wings. Photo by Marge Neal
Chef David Gutman and manager Heather Sekora unveiled a new menu for Donna's Tavern and restaurant that features 99 flavors of chicken wings. Photo by Marge Neal
Donna's Tavern and Restaurant sits at the foot of a sleepy, quiet residential street in St. Helena. Nestled off the beaten path on Pine Avenue, the restaurant gets little to no "accidental" customers.

"We're not being passed by people driving to other places," manager Heather Sekora said last week. "We don't get people who drive by and say to themselves, 'Hey, let's stop there and check it out.' People who come here know about us; we wanted to do something that would make people think of us every day and to reach people who don't know about us."

Sekora thinks she's hit on an idea what will help put Donna's on the culinary map.

Last week, a new menu featuring 99 flavors of chicken wings greeted customers. Fried wing connoisseurs will be able to try just about any flavor combination thinkable— from a sweet cranberry sauce to the "really, really, really hot" sriracha wings, according to Sekora.

Other intriguing flavors include apricot glazed, gin and lemon, Hawaiian (think pizza), jalapeño cheddar, maple chipotle and orange ginger.

The less adventurous can still order nude wings or any number of more traditional flavors, including Maryland favorite Old Bay.

After researching wing menus from across the country and brainstorming with chef David Gutman, Sekora is excited to debut the new wing menu and, along with it, the announcement of Donna's Wing Club.

"When I first told Dave about my idea, he asked me if I had lost my mind," Sekora said with a laugh. "He wanted to start out with like 25 flavors and then build from there, but I said no, if we're going to do this, we're going to do it big."

In her research, Sekora found a wing place in North Carolina that offers 75 flavors, but wasn't able to find an eatery offering more than that. She decided on 99 as a little take-off on the old song, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."

"We're going to have 99 flavors of wings on the wall," she said.

Sekora and Gutman worked on recipes for two months to come up with the 99 flavors that now grace the menu.

"It took a while, " Gutman said. "You think about what you like and what you don't like—how flavors mix and what people like. I thought of recipes I've made for baked or fried chicken and which of those would go well with wings."

They experimented, tasted, tweaked and tasted again before deciding which recipes to keep or toss.

Donna's has its regular crowds for a variety of special events and offerings, according to Sekora.

Certain nights bring in pool players, music lovers, professional sports fans  and, during the warmer months, softball players and other recreation league athletes. 

"But I wanted to do something that would make people think of Donna's every day," she said. "I want people to make Donna's a regular go-to place and I think the Wing Club will do that. I want people to think of us when they think of wings."

Wing Club members will end up being paid to eat, according to Sekora.

While on their way to tasting all 99 varieties, customers will be rewarded with gift certificates. Each member will receive a $33 certificate after tasting 33, 66 and then all 99 flavors, for a total reward of $99.

"People will essentially get paid to eat wings," Sekora said. "And I'm breaking it up to keep people motivated and excited. I didn't want people to have to try all 99 flavors before they get a reward."

When club members sign up, they will get a membership card and will fill out a profile sheet that lists all 99 flavors, by number.

As they order and try different recipes, their server will pull their profile card, check off the recipe number, enter the date ordered and initial the order.

In addition to the gift certificates, club members will be eligible for additional promotional offerings that will roll out as the club gets established, according to Sekora.

"And we're going to make a Wing Wall of Fame, and the first person to try all 99 wings will go up on the wall in a big way," the restaurant manager said.

The restaurant will continue to have "wing nights" on Thursdays, with the chicken morsels available in servings of eight or 12 at 65 cents each. Diners will be able to wash down their wings with 12-ounce bottles of Natty Boh for $1.75.

"And wings ordered on Thursdays will count for the club," Sekora said. "Any wings ordered any time count toward club purchases."

Donna's, owned by and named for Donna Sekora—Heather's mother—has been reinventing itself since a major renovation in 2004 turned the neighborhood pub into a bar and restaurant done in rich dark woods with a bar area, dining tables and booths, a stone fireplace, a separate room for pool league competition, dance floor with small bandstand and an outdoor pavilion complete with televisions.

The wing menu is another effort to show the community that Donna's is a partner hoping to offer residents a fun, family-oriented eating experience, according to Heather Sekora.

"I wanted to come up with a reason to set Donna's apart from everyone else—give people a reason to come here," She said. "We get this going, I want people to think of Donna's when they think of wings."

Donna's Tavern and Restaurant
6607 Pine Ave., St. Helena

99 Flavors of wings now available on the menu
Price: $9.50 (eight wings), $10.99 (12 wings)

Wing Night (each Thursday): Wings cost 65 cents each (available in servings of eight or 12); 12-ounce Natty Boh bottles cost $1.75 each

Happy Hour:
3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, offering $1.25 domestic cans of beer, $2 mixed drinks (rail liquor), $3 spiced hot chocolate (winter months) and $1 off all burgers.

Winter hours:
Donna's opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon on Sundays. Closing time varies.

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