Chuck Williams, the man responsible for founding Williams-Sonoma, was 100 years old when he died on Saturday. The Williams-Sonoma company announced his death to be from natural causes.
“With [ Chuck Williams’ ] impeccable taste and unique talent for selecting the right products at the right time, he built a powerful brand that inspired a cultural revolution around food and had immeasurable impact on home and family life around the world,” the Williams-Sonoma brand’s current president, Janet Hayes, told ABC News.
Williams was born October 2, 1915, and began his love affair with cooking as a child. It is said that some of his earliest memories involve baking with his grandmother.
Although Chuck had a hard life throughout the Great Depression, with his family losing their business and being forced to move, he was not deterred. During World War II, Williams traveled to India and Africa in the hope of learning about their cooking practices, food, and drinks.
Chuck Williams spoke about his travels to the Washington Post in 2005.
“I couldn’t get over seeing so many great things for cooking, the heavy pots and pans, white porcelain ovenware, country earthenware, great tools and professional knives. Here, it was different. For the home cook, there were thin pans in not a lot of sizes, and tools were on the cheap side. In those days, people bought kitchenwares in hardware and department stores.”
When he returned to the United States, Williams saw a great need for people of the country to have access to the kind of professional cooking equipment he’d come across in his travels. At the time, the only way to get any of that equipment was to travel outside of the U.S.
Julia Child spoke to Newsweek about Chuck Williams in 1997. She recollected how he changed the way people in the U.S. cooked.
“I think he shaped the taste of all those who love to cook. In the early days of my show, the home chef couldn’t buy any of the items I used in cooking. You had to buy them the next time you went to France. [ Chuck Williams ] changed all that.”
Williams changed all that by opening his first store in Sonoma, California, in 1956.
Chuck was determined to make something different, something that no one had seen before. At the time, people were used to the crowded and cramped shelves of the hardware and department stores, so Williams decided to change the layout for his shop.
He created attractive displays that were arranged more like a studio of art than a store. It gave customers a chance to interact with each piece of equipment before deciding whether or not to buy it.
Only two years after Chuck Williams opened his first store, his brand had become so popular that he had to move into a larger space in San Francisco. Now, there are over 250 Williams-Sonoma locations around the world, including branches in Canada, Australia, and Mexico.
Chuck Williams wasn’t only an entrepreneur, he was a writer and editor as well. Goodreads has 194 distinct works listed under his name.
Thomas Keller, a chef and restaurateur, gave a statement on Chuck Williams to ABC News as a thank you to the late great.
“His tireless search for new equipment, techniques and ingredients to feature at Williams-Sonoma brought the pleasures of using fine cookware into reach for Americans, and by following his passion, Chuck allowed us to fulfill ours. As we do with all of our mentors, we must acknowledge and be thankful for his vision and commitment; for what he did has impacted kitchens and restaurants worldwide. Chuck Williams once said, ‘If you love what you do, then the world will fall in love with you.’ We fell for you, Chuck, and we thank you for touching our lives.”
[ Photo by Eric Risberg/AP Photo ]