On Saturday, Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams died at the age of 100. As we look back on his life, we celebrate it, and the culinary legacy that he left behind for the rest of us. Here are a few memories of Chuck from those he touched—customers, associates, TV chefs, cookbook writers, chefs, media, restaurateurs—that will live in our hearts forever.
“I have and always will be a devout follower of Chuck Williams. I not only learned how to cook, I learned how to entertain in the most elegant way. Preparing a beautiful meal and serving it to family and friends is a true gift of love.” — Carol Macaluso, Williams-Sonoma customer
“When I was first appointed CEO, I went to see Chuck in his office. I asked him what he would like me to do. He said, ‘Just make it better—just make it better.’ At 95 years old, his main concern was that I was focused on improving our culture and work environment, our standing in the communities where we operate, and the products and services we deliver to our customers. I hope Chuck would agree that collectively we have made it better. My commitment to Chuck is to continue to grow and make better this great company that bears his name.” — Laura Alber, CEO, Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
“Chuck Williams’ story reminds us that every big startup idea begins and ends with execution.” — Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group
“It was an honor to have met Chuck after spending half of my life shopping in his stores, teaching there, and working in one of the stores. Chuck’s was a life well lived. Chuck left a legacy for all of us when he changed the way Americans cooked.” — Catherine Daum Lucas, former Williams-Sonoma associate
“Chuck Williams brought a world of inspiration to a country starved for a culinary identity. The last time I spoke, I asked him what it took to start such a dynamic company, and he said, ‘I walked the whole way. I got up every day and put one foot in front of the other.’ Our generation has some big shoes to fill. Thank you, Chuck Williams, for an amazing life. We look forward to walking in your footsteps.” — Tyler Florence, cookbook author, restaurateur and TV chef
“Chuck Williams once said, ‘If you love what you do, then the whole world will fall in love with you.’ We fell for you, Chuck, and we thank you for touching our lives.” — Thomas Keller, chef and owner, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group
“Mr. Williams was such an inspiration to me. I read his biography a couple of years ago and was just amazed at his passion, which helped my own to grow. The Williams-Sonoma stores have always been my very favorite…almost requiring a moment of silence before entering. What a wonderful and full life he had. He will be missed. May his passion continue to thrive in all of us.” — Shari Payne, Williams-Sonoma customer
“So sorry to hear that Chuck Williams died this a.m. He was a visionary with a warm, gentle spirit.” — Michael Bauer, restaurant critic, San Francisco Chronicle
“I bought my first cookbook in a Williams-Sonoma at age 20. Now I collect them while teaching our teams around the world why our customers become our friends and our family. They all sit right next to that first book. Thank you, Chuck, for inspiring so many of us.” — Kari Hazelton, Director of Global Operations, Williams-Sonoma
“I remember going into his store on Sutter Street in San Francisco when it was just a modest shop selling top-quality cookware from France, and elsewhere. Many of the things they carried were new to Americans at the time, and now, things like Duralex glasses, food processors and Le Creuset pots and pans are widely available. It’s a different era and world now, but it’s hard to overestimate his influence on the evolution of cooking in America.” — David Lebovitz, cookbook author and blogger
“Chuck Williams: Thank you for inspiring us to want to cook better, and for supplying us with the tools to do so.” — Michael Voltaggio, chef, restaurateur and Top Chef: Las Vegas winner
“I still remember the first time I visited the Williams-Somoma at Copley Place in Boston in the late eighties. At the time, it was the only Williams-Sonoma in Massachusetts. It was magical! The copper pots! The brioche molds as and fluted tart pans! The European knives! Now, even 30 years later, I still feel that same magic every time I cross the threshold of a Williams-Sonoma. And somehow, I think that would make your founder happy. What an amazing life. What an amazing man. So happy he saw his 100th birthday. May he rest in peace. Thank you, Mr. Williams!” — Alex H., Williams-Sonoma customer
We’d like to hear: How did Chuck Williams inspire you? Please share your favorite memories with us below.
I never met or read about Mr. Chuck Williams until I felt compelled to search for “the heart of Williams-Sonoma” tonight. In this particular picture he appears to be looking straight back at whoever is examining his image. Studying it, I tried to decipher, “Was he a kind man?” That was the most important question in my mind and I believe it has been answered. Thank you.
I WAS A WILLIAMS-SONOMA ASSOCIATE FOR 23 YEARS. GREAT YEARS. I MET CHUCK WILLIAMS WHEN HE VISITED OUR STORE IN SANTA MONICA’S ORIGINAL LOCATION. HE SAT AND TALKED TO CUSTOMERS AND ASSOCIATES LIKE MYSELF. WHAT A KIND MODEST MAN. I HAVE TO SAY THAT THE MEMORY I HAVE ALWAYS GONE BACK TO IS THE EARLY DAYS BEFORE I WAS AN ASSOCIATE AND WOULD RECEIVE THE WILLIAMS-SONOMA CATALOG. HOW I LOVED READING THAT CHUCK WILLIAMS HAD FOUND A GEM OF AN ITEM SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE OR ITALY OR ANOTHER WONDERFUL LOCATION. HE WAS ONE OF MY EARLY MENTORS IN THE KITCHEN. CHUCK WILLIAMS CHANGED THE WAY WE FEEL ABOUT OUR COOKING. WHAT A LEGACY!
My fondest memories of Chuck Williams are of his numerous visits to the Williams-Sonoma Distribution Center at 4300 Concorde Rd. in Memphis, Tn. While walking the enormous building he would often stop and speak with staff one on one about how to run a business more efficiently. During one visit in particular he stopped by my work area to say hello and I asked him to sign a large Williams-Sonoma cookbook I had purchased.
Chuck being the kind gentleman he was signed it and smiled. That day we laughed and talked about the stock market as well as how he started Williams-Sonoma many years ago. In those days we used wheel barrels to move items from one area to the next in the distribution center.
Chuck will be missed dearly but his spirit lives on in me and everyone that has been touched by his existence.
At 22, the first item I ever purchased at Williams-Sonoma was a rolling mincer. Not having a lot of money, I would drool over the catalogs when they came in the mail. The high quality merchandise was always intriguing. Entering a W-S store is like going on a trip to another world as the place feeds the imagination.
I have been a seasonal gift wrapper in Portland, Oregon for some years now and continue to enjoy walking into the store, the camaraderie among staff, and the upbeat atmosphere. Surely the company charism is a direct reflection of it’s founder. Although I have never met him, it is obvious that Mr. Williams was a remarkable human being.
“When you love what you do, the world will fall in love with you.”
-Chuck Williams, October 2, 1915 – December 5, 2015
Like so many of the passionate cooks in this miraculous world, I’ve been in love with Chuck Williams – well, forever.
I met Chuck on one of my first days as a novice Williams-Sonoma writer almost two decades ago.
Having heard of Chuck’s fondness for culinary conversations and hoping to understand subtle differences among some of his original French baking molds and olivewood kitchen tools, I wandered up to his office and knocked on the open door – and so began a conversation that would go on for years.
Chuck taught me to pay attention to every moment of life – and to transform it into something nourishing, useful and true. Over the years, he happily shared stories that revealed the adventures of an entire century.
He taught me the importance of understanding, in cooking and in life, the true meaning of innovation: to make things new.
Chuck will live forever in my heart (and kitchen) as beloved mentor, friend and the closest person I ever had to a wise and wonderful grandfather.
“… and so began a conversation that would go on for years.”
Laura, thanks for sharing the story of how you and Chuck began a decades-long and meaningful friendship, and thanks for sharing all that you’ve learned from him here on our blog! After reading all of your recollections and interviews, it feels like we know him like a friend, too.
Back in 1995 my director of Nursing knew I liked to cook& bake , so she gave me the Christmas catalog. I looked at it so many times that it fell apart, I taped it back together! One day I told her about it. She said, “You know you can get your own subscription, don’t you? I immediately subscribed. A couple of years later I went to the store in Utica Square in Tulsa, OK. It was so beautiful that if I could have moved in, I would have! I enjoyed ordering from the catalog and visiting and buying from the store many times since. When people come to my house they say wow! You have everything & it’s all so beautiful! Definitely my favorite store! I always loved reading the stories that Chuck wrote in the catalog about how he discovered items in the catalog.
Stories like this (especially the part about taping the Christmas catalog back together) bring a smile to our faces (and we’re sure they would for Chuck, too).Thanks for sharing.
I remember being in the Walnut Creek store years ago… My mother and I were looking for a tomato knife and the associate, a really nice fellow who could tell a good story, leaned over and said “Well, rumor has it this is Chuck’s favorite. He was in here just last week.” I have no doubt now that they were *all* Chuck’s favorites but at that moment we felt like we were in on the secret. We still love go into a W-S and look at the cookbooks and gadgets, pointing out “have it, have it… have it… ooh! Need it!” Thank you so much for creating such a wonderful place. I never even met you and I miss you already.
Thanks, Lisa. “I never even met you and I miss you already.” Truer words have never been said!
When Maggie Waldron died in 1995, her daughter (& my childhood friend) asked me to join her at the memorial in San Francisco. It was held at the Pritikin Mansion/Museum, and was a real who’s who of Bay Area food dignitaries. I was way out of my league that day, and spent most of my time roaming and people watching.
At one point, I was outside on one of the balconies that overlooked the courtyard and fountain. As I observed a small group of people talking and laughing heartily, a gentleman in the group took a step backward and fell into that fountain. In his fine suit, holding his wine glass. Everyone who saw it gasped, of course.The poor older man was pulled from the cold water, uninjured. Though he must have been embarrassed, he was soon laughing and chatting with his friends again. (After a change of clothes.) The party continued, as parties seem to do. In retrospect, that was actually a beautiful moment of brevity and humor at an otherwise somber event.
That man who fell into the fountain at Maggie’s memorial that afternoon was Chuck Williams, a really good sport.
We got a good chuckle out of this one, and we’re sure Chuck did, too. In addition to being all that he was, he also had a great sense of humor! Thanks for sharing.
My favorite story about Chuck was when we were opening the Ala Moana store in Hawaii. While the rest of the opening team had the afternoon off, I stayed in the store to fold the kitchen towels (they used to come all loose). Chuck arrived after a radio interview and decided to stay and fold towels with me for over four hours. He shared so many wonderful stories about his customers who came from Hawaii, like the Matson shipping family. It was so special to spend such personal time with such a wonderful man. His vision for service has inspired me and I feel so special being a part of his great legacy.
We live to hear stories like this one about Chuck! We’re grateful for you sharing them with the rest of us.
The first time I walked into a Williams-Sonoma store I was in complete awe. Through the years, I have gone to cooking lessons, learned how to use proper techniques and learned how to fall in love with cooking. Thanks to Chuck Williams for having the insight to create such a magnificent store that not only can you buy the most amazing cooking and entertaining items, but more importantly, you can learn how to cook and how to fall in love with cooking.
Thanks for sharing such kind words!