By David Trinko
The founder of Williams-Sonoma died earlier this month. Lima’s connection to his fine cookware lives on, though.
Chuck Williams died of natural causes Dec. 5 at the age of 100. During that long lifetime, he ushered in an era of culinary retail where people bought pots, pans and utensils well above their skill levels.
That high-quality Williams-Sonoma cookware may never have come to be if it weren’t for Williams’ grandmother’s restaurant in the 700 block of South Main Street in Lima.
Leona Waggoner Shaw ran a restaurant in the Kibby Corners area from roughly 1902 to about 1910, according to research from Anna Selfridge at the Allen County Museum and reported by columnist Mike Lackey in 2004. She and her husband eventually moved to Florida, where she often worked with young Chuck in the kitchen.
Even though she closed that restaurant five years before Chuck was born, it remained a part of his family’s folklore, Williams said in a 2003 story in Fortune.
“My first memories of being in the kitchen were with my grandmother, who had a restaurant in Lima, Ohio, when she was younger,” Williams recalled.
It taught him a lot about the hard work involved in good food, he said.
“When she’d make divinity fudge or a lemon meringue pie, she would have me beat the egg whites for her,” he said. “This was before electric mixers, so I had to use a big oval platter and a fork. It took forever, but I didn’t mind. Being in the kitchen with her made me happy.”
That’s where he learned how to cook. He reminisced about making beans on Mondays or Tuesdays, which were laundry and ironing days.
As the week went on, the menu became more extravagant with his grandmother, working up to fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Most of all, his grandmother loved to bake pies. She trimmed the excess dough off so he could bake a small pie of his own.
It all brought him happiness during a tough childhood, where his parents were often absent around the days of the Great Depression.
He eventually went off to Paris in the 1950s and fell in love with the high-end options available in France.
“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 brought those ideas back to the United States and built an empire. For years, he personally selected products for the catalog bearing his name and the city where he settled, Sonoma, Calif.
He went on to author more than 200 cookbooks, selling tens of millions of copies.
In small part, the world owes it all to his grandmother’s former restaurant in Lima.
David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News. Reach him at 567-242-0467, at email@example.com or @Lima_Trinko.