My favorite cookbook author, Chuck Williams, celebrated his 99th birthday yesterday, October 2nd. Wow! 99 years old! How many of us here wish we could live that long?
Chuck once said that if you love what you’re doing, the world will fall in love with you too. He was right. Not only did the world fall in love with him, it loved him so dearly that it decided it ain’t gonna let him go anytime soon!
Chuck Williams is the founder of Williams-Sonoma company and author of the globally renowned Williams-Sonoma Cookbooks. I absolutely love, love, LOVE his cookbooks, I own over twenty of them in my own collection!
Chuck Williams is not just my inspiration and hero when it comes to the subject of culinary art but on entrepreneurship in general and pursuing one’s true passion.
Chuck’s success story may have started with a love for cooking, but it was an openness to experience and a willingness to explore something different, followed by a selfless desire to share that experience with everyone else that turned that love into passion, and that passion into a business empire.
Born on October 2, 1915 in Northern Florida, Chuck discovered his love for cooking through the help of his maternal grandmother who owned a restaurant in Ohio.
In 1947, Chuck moved to Sonoma, California. He first worked as a contractor building homes. He later on became friends with other people who shared the same passion for food and cooking. However, it was a trip to Paris in 1953 with those same friends that turned Chuck’s life around.
Fascinated and inspired by the French cooking culture, Chuck’s love for cooking and food turned into a burning passion. That was when he realized that his entire life would revolve around culinary arts.
“Cookware stores like Dehillerin or the housewares section of Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville in Paris were unlike anything most Americans had ever seen. I was completely fascinated not only by the vast array of kitchen tools and accessories, but also how they were displayed. Pots and pans in every conceivable shape and size, all out in the open.” ~ Chuck Williams
A year after that trip to Paris, Chuck bought a hardware store in Sonoma, California. Within a couple of years, he gradually converted that hardware store into a French Cookware store. The concept turned out to be a huge success since it was very difficult to buy European cookware in America at that time. Hence, the birth of the first Williams-Sonoma cookware store in 1956!
“When I opened the first store, I designed a logo using a woodcut illustration of a pineapple. Pineapples have been a symbol of hospitality since the days of the American colonies. When sea captains returned home from voyages, they would spear pineapples onto their fence posts to let neighbors know that their homes were open to visitors. To this day the pineapple remains an important part of our identity.” ~ Chuck Williams
Since many of Chuck’s first customers lived in nearby San Francisco, he decided to move his operations there in 1958. Thirteen years later, the first Williams-Sonoma cookware catalog was introduced.
In 1972, with the help of a few business partners, including Edward Marcus (who used to supervise the Neiman Marcus catalog), Chuck established Williams-Sonoma, Inc. In 1985, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. purchased Pottery Barn which already had 21 stores at that time, thus making Williams-Sonoma a leader in the home furnishings market.
In 1986, Chuck published his first cook book, “The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook with a Guide to Kitchenware.” More than a hundred Williams-Sonoma cookbooks had been published since then.
“There’s no shortage of cookbooks nowadays. You can walk into any bookstore and find one on every type of food imaginable. But back in 1986 that wasn’t the case. And to make matters worse, most of the cookbooks that were out there were very complicated. I’ve always loved good, simple, easy to make food and that’s what all my cookbooks emphasize.” ~ Chuck Williams
From the 1990’s and well into the 2000’s, Chuck Williams was honored by the industry with many achievements, some of which were:
- “Retailer of the Year” at the San Francisco Gourmet Products Show in 1992
- “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage” by the James Beard Foundation in 1993
- “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the James Beard Foundation in 1995
- “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2001
- “Hall of Fame” by the Culinary Institute of America in 2002
- 7th Annual Giants of Design Awards “Visionary Retailer” by House Beautiful in 2006
Mr. Chuck Williams, every time I would turn the pages of my Williams-Sonoma Cookbooks, I will always be reminded of the love and dedication you put in everything you do. I will continue to delight in the thought that we share the same passion and imagine that you are actually my mentor and best friend.
Thank you so much for your contribution to the industry. Thank you for inspiring me and millions of other cooks and homemakers all over the world. Happy 99th Birthday, Chuck Williams, and more power to you!
[ Images courtesy of blog.williams-sonoma.com and sonomamag.com]
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