Chuck Williams, who founded the Williams-Sonoma empire and ushered in an era of aspirational culinary retailing, has died. He was 100. The retailer of high-end home goods said Williams died of natural causes Saturday at home in San Francisco. Williams opened his first Williams-Sonoma store in Sonoma, Calif., in 1956 inspired by a trip to Paris three years earlier. A lover of cooking and entertaining, he wanted US professional chefs and home cooks to have access to high-quality cookware and tools. "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," Williams told the Washington Post in 2005.
He refurbished the store off Sonoma's town square, with custom shelving to display pots and pans and a simple logo with "Williams" and "Sonoma" in block letters over a woodcut pineapple—a symbol of hospitality. The shop was such an enormous success that in 1958, he relocated to a 3,000-square-foot store in San Francisco. Julia Child's landmark 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her show sent even more cooks to Williams-Sonoma and by 11 years later, that store had expanded to twice its original size and the catalog was flourishing. Williams sold the company in 1979, but remained closely involved. "We must be thankful for his vision and commitment; for what he did has impacted kitchens and restaurants worldwide," said renowned chef Thomas Keller. "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." (Read more Williams Sonoma stories.)