“I can’t beat your mother’s greens and cornbread. I’m smart enough to know that. But in her absence, we’re just about the best.” The late William “Bill” F. Williams was president and co-founder of Glory Foods, Inc., a Columbus, Ohio-based company that markets a specialty line of Southern-style vegetables. When Williams and partners, Iris Cooper, Dan Charna and the late Garth Henley discussed the concept for Glory Foods in 1989, supermarket shelves contained a variety of ethnic brands for Jewish, Hispanic and Asian consumers, but there were none symbolic of the African-American Southern-style cooking tradition.
The partners were challenged to develop this marketing segment by offering products that were not only culturally pleasing, they also duplicated the fresh homestyle taste of vegetables seasoned with the flair of down-home Southern-style cooking.
In 1992, following years of research development, testing and sampling, Glory Foods’ seasoned, heat-and-serve Southern-style canned vegetables were introduced to the marketplace. Today, Glory Foods brands are available nationally and offer a wide selection of products that appeal to a cross-section of consumers. The company is built on a tradition that honors a cooking style passed down from generations of Southern cooks.
Williams knew and understood this tradition, and he relished the memories of his mother’s cooking. While in high school, he worked part-time as a busboy in a local Columbus, Ohio restaurant, clearing tables and washing dishes. His fascination with an interest in food preparation soon impressed the restaurant’s owner, who became his mentor.
Williams was a quick study. He prepared recipes and sauces for the restaurant, and encouraged by his mentor, he applied and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where he graduated with honors. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Massachusetts, and began his career in Food and Beverage, working as a manager for several hotel and restaurant chains, including; Reeb’s, Sheraton Tobacco, Valley Inn, Hotel Sonesta, The Playboy Club Hotel, and Lazarus (one of the Federated Department Stores in Columbus). Williams later opened The Marble Gang Restaurant and with his wife Betty at his side, transformed it into one of the most popular soul food restaurants on the East Side of Columbus. He sold the restaurant in 1998.
Bill Williams was a visionary, an astute businessman and entrepreneur who understood and related to his customer base. But above all, he was a man of the people. Black farmers were often able to meet their crop expectations because of his financial support, coupled with programs and services established to make them more proficient as growers and businessmen and women. African-American students pursuing degrees in the Food Sciences also benefited from scholarships established at Ohio State University’s MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) Program. Each year, “Bill William Scholarships,” established through a program administered by the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance, are awarded to students from around the country who demonstrate an interest in learning about the history and folklore of Southern cooking.
When Black Enterprise awarded Williams the Emerging Company of the Year Award in 1996, the award recognized his excellence in carving out a marketing niche that had been overlooked. Bill Williams has carved out much more than a marketing segment, he has carved out a prominent place in history. “My goal has and continues to be one of providing quality and convenience in the consumer’s experience and enjoyment of Southern foods,” said Williams. “It’s also important that consumers understand that when they support Glory Foods, they are also supporting larger issues we are committed to such as education and community service. Reinvestment in the community and in educational institutions that will create the next generation of leaders is a partnership we will continue to share with our consumers.”
Glory Foods is Bill Williams’ gift to all who understand and appreciate Southern culture and the foods that define it. The name “Glory Foods” was given to envoke the spiritual joy of experiencing foods that connect the mind, body and soul to the memories of home and family. Seasoned Collard Greens in a can? Seventeen years ago, it was unimaginable, but thanks to Bill Williams, Iris Cooper, Dan Charna and Garth Henley, it’s hard to imagine a kitchen without them! “Good Taste for the Table. Good Taste for the Soul,” that’s Glory Foods.