Cooking Up Success
Growing up in Thomaston, Georgia, the thought of being in tourism never crossed Ansley Williams’ mind. After his senior year of high school, he went off to the big city of Atlanta to study aerospace engineering. While he was at school, he started cooking burgers at Atlanta’s Bucket Shop restaurant in the Underground district across the street from the Georgia Capitol.
“It was a great way to earn money. They had flexible hours and the camaraderie was extraordinary,” said Williams. “It was an incredibly fun way to make money.”
He started by flipping burgers but soon graduated to busser, bar back, and eventually bar tender. As his responsibility grew, so did his paycheck. He was making $500 a week in salary and tips back then, and in 1970, that was a lot of money.
“I was getting paid to do something I would have paid to have done,” Williams added. “I
had fun every hour of the day.”
In 1972, his senior year, his mentor with the restaurant company offered him a management job. He had to take a long look at what he wanted to do for a living and decide how he was going to move forward.
He had to weigh staying at Georgia Tech or joining the management team at the Downside Risk Company that owned among other restaurants the W.D. Crowley Steak House. The decision was a simple one, as his passion was firmly grounded in hospitality by that point.
His newfound career path sent him to Cape Cod and Lake Tahoe, where he mastered the
art of hospitality management with on-the-job, paid training. He created lifelong friends as he learned the ins and outs of restaurant business.
He found that in order to succeed in hospitality, you must love people. And, you have to train the staff how to work with the customer with a smiling, friendly face.
“You also have to have quality food so that customers keep coming back,” said Williams. They did come back, and he was finding more and more success in the industry.
BACK TO GEORGIA
His company called him and another partner, Alben Yarbrough, who was also from Thomaston to return to Georgia and turn around a struggling restaurant in Savannah. Their success led to what would end up being a lifetime commitment to Savannah.
In December 1976, Williams and Yarbrough joined with Alben’s brother Dusty Yarbrough
to open up Spanky’s Pizza Galley and Saloon on River Street. Two years later, they opened a location on the Southside of Savannah with the help of David Silverman. The team continued opening restaurants at St. Simons Island, Tybee Island, Athens, Brunswick, and Pooler.
Williams’ Live Oak Restaurant Group now includes a portfolio of seven restaurants.
“Our greatest asset is the people we employ,” said Williams. In fact, with an annual payroll of more than $6 million, there are plenty of opportunities for aspiring hospitality professionals.
As he mentors those who will follow in his footsteps, not once has he looked back and wished he had become an airline pilot.
“If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” said Williams.
Started As /
Owner of Live Oak Restaurant Group