Company founded by Chuck Williams
that sells gourmet food
to people like me who think they can cook.
Started as a single neighborhood store selling French cookware to chefs in Sonoma in the 1950s, moved to San Francisco in 1958. Chuck Williams himself was a riveter for Lockheed in World War II, and then started hanging out with gourmet cook friends, and a 1950s European tour opened his eyes to high-quality European cookware.
Began a mail-order business in 1971, which became enormously successful. Then a series of retail stores which are now in many upscale shopping malls throughout the United States.
Williams-Sonoma may be single-handedly responsible for the whole upscale kitchen trend in the United States. For proof, compare the kitchens of the wealthy in 1960 to the ones in 2000. Modern upscale kitchens are full of commercial quality appliances and tools; in 1960, you were stuck with Farberware and Frigidaire.
I love going into a Williams-Sonoma store. They sell really nice stuff--stuff that when you cook with it, you are happy. There's something about knives that cut well, hefty pans, and quality appliances that make you feel like you're a good cook, which is really half the battle of cooking. The catalog is also a worthy addition to any endtable or bathroom magazine rack, and is full of great recipes (usually featuring food sold in the catalog, but not always.)
Williams-Sonoma Inc. also owns Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, and Chambers stores and mail-order.