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Bill Wilkinson, co-owner of Greenleaf, dies at 68

by Tim Linden | July 28, 2010
Bill Wilkinson, a San Francisco foodservice wholesaler, died Monday, July 19, of melanoma at his home in San Francisco. He was 68.

At the time of his death, Mr. Wilkinson was co-owner of Greenleaf on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. He bought the company in 1993 and built it into one of the top suppliers of produce, especially to the hotel foodservice industry, which was his first love.

For a quarter of a century, Mr. Wilkinson ran some of the top hotels and kitchens in California and worked with some of the state's better-known chefs. He opened and ran Campton Place in San Francisco and helped found the famous and elegant Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles.

Greenleaf was one of his suppliers in 1993 when he invested in the failing. He soon took over ownership and built it into a thriving business. On a weekly basis, he would invite both chefs and small produce growers into the facility on the market to allow the growers to showcase their products to the top chefs. He is credited with introducing many specialty produce items to the restaurant industry in San Francisco and, in fact, his company sponsored a popular food news segment on a local radio station for many years.

In the San Francisco area, Mr. Wilkinson is considered one of the founders of the local food movement. However, he was also an astute produce wholesaler, handling product from all over the world.

Michael Janis, president of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, told The Produce News, "Calling Bill an innovator doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Bill’s leadership at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market will be sorely missed, and his significant contributions to the industry will be felt for many, many years to come. He was truly a unique individual that found great success in the hotel business and was able to transition very successfully into the produce industry. He took a company that was not doing very well and turned it into a major powerhouse on the market."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. Wilkinson was born in the Bronx, NY, and raised in Yonkers, NY. After graduating from Paul Smith’s College in New York with a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant hospitality, he took a job with Restaurant Associates. He served four years in the U.S. Navy, where he worked as an interpreter and intelligence clerk. After the Navy, he worked at the Waldorf Astoria in New York before joining the corporate offices of the Intercontinental Hotels.

In 1976, Mr. Wilkinson came to San Francisco to run the Stanford Court Hotel on Nob Hill, and within the next decade, he had opened both Campton Place and Checkers.

At the time of his death, Mr. Wilkinson was a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.