Since almost the beginning of their career, Williams Bakery owners Ronnie Williams and his wife Cathy have donated their leftover pies, breads and other baked goods to local churches and organizations for the needy.
Last month, they were recognized by the state for their efforts to give back to the community and received one of the governor’s volunteerism and community service awards.
But to them, it’s always been a part of their business.
“To us, it’s just what we do,” Williams said.
Part of the bakery’s business model has been to offer a large variety of items so that no customer leaves unhappy, but often with that model comes with a lot of leftovers. Each day from the main shop along Mechanicsville Turnpike, he said they make roughly 100 pies, 100 dozen donuts, 150 different varieties of rolls and 200 “showcase” items such as brownies or éclairs for all three bakery locations including two in Mechanicsville and one in Highland Springs.
Leftover goods go to organizations like Western Hanover Emergency Action Team, or WHEAT, and soup kitchens at places like Hanover Evangelical Friends Church in Mechanicsville and 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond.
“It’s kind of celebrating a failure, because when we don’t sell it, we’ve gotta do something with it,” Williams said.
Williams Bakery was recently named an “outstanding small business” for its efforts to give back to the community.
Not only is the bakery community-oriented, it’s also a family-oriented business.
Williams started working in the Mechanicsville location in 1977 after his father retired in 1963. He took over the business in 1990.
His grandfather opened up the first location in Church Hill around 1911 and it’s been in their family ever since. Currently two of Williams’ children, Summer Williams Bailey and Carver Williams, work in the bakery ever day and his wife is the bookkeeper.
Although Williams did not earn a degree in culinary arts — he instead graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a business degree — he has enjoyed the world of baking, though.
He never expected to make a living from it.
“I came in just to have a job after the Air Force — thinking I’d go find a real job, [I] never left,” Williams said.
One of his favorite aspects of the job is gaining knowledge from others.
“I learn from the people that I’ve hired over the years to work with me, because everyone has a different experience,” Williams said.
Each of his 22 employees is important to him and each is a “key link” to running the business. Williams said once the bakery items are delivered to each location, it’s up to the employees to sell the products and promote the business.
And over the years, the family’s “formula book” or recipe collection changes and grows as employees come and go from the bakery. A good majority of the bakery’s recipes, such as their éclairs with homemade custard filling, are ones that his father used when he was running the business.
All of the recipes are made without preservatives, because that is how his family has always made their baked items.
“We make a product like your grandmother used to make,” Williams said.
The bakery makes numerous items including decorated cakes, donuts, granola, danishes and even pizzas.
Even though the bakery has been whipping up its fresh goods and giving extras away to the hungry for years, it was not until they received the state award that some of their customers found out about the business’ acts of kindness. Williams Bakery does not promote it hardly at all.
“It’s just not the reason we do it,” Williams said.