Bill Williams landed in Houston in the 1920s hitchhiking to Hollywood from his native Alabama. His history of movie dreams ended there since he was flat broke. Taking a job as a short order cook, he became dissatisfied after around five years and wanted to open his own restaurant. Bill had made friends with a customer who was also a rich oilman. The oilman, L. B. Hamilton, staked Bill the $500 he estimated he need to start up his own restaurant – directly from cash on hand in his wallet.
Downtown to South Main and Beyond
Starting near downtown and experimenting with different menu items, Williams opened his South Main location across from Rice Institute (now Rice University) in 1936. He became best known for his delicious fried chicken and unique “savage style” of seasoning. The “savage style” of seasoning that Bill Williams used on his chicken was a closely guarded secret, but it was rumored to include a mix of spices and herbs that gave the chicken a distinct flavor and crispy texture.
The restaurant’s slogan, “savage style,” became synonymous with this signature seasoning and was proudly displayed on its signage and menus. The building’s roof featured sculpted “Injuns” cooking chicken in a huge skillet over an open fire.
South Main was not without stiff competition, as this writer remembers from his time at Rice. Valian’s Pizza, which also included carhops like Bill Williams, was wildly popular. Youngblood’s Chicken, with its dinner rolls and honey, provided a direct challenge on the chicken front. Christie’s Seafood nearby was also a hit. Down the street near the Shamrock Hilton, Trader Vic’s and The Red Lion provided higher end options.
Bill went on to operate many locations around Houston. He even had a popular location in New Orleans for a time. The menu expanded to include steaks and seafood. His oyster bars were a hit.
The South Main location, though, was the one he was best known for. In addition to other local traffic and the start of the nearby Texas Medical Center, The Bill Williams Chicken House, as it was now known, drew a large weekend crowd from Rice. Rice students were without dorm food on the weekends for many years, which included the period that The Chicken House was open across the street.
Wealth, Charity, and Eventual Decline
Despite having competitors, Bill Williams prospered. He often placed a winning bid for blue ribbon bulls at The Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo. His annual Capon Charity Dinner raised a lot of money for children’s charity, even though it was characterized by some as more of a stag party than an ordinary fundraiser.
Walter Roberts, South Main general manager for 28 years, tells of the gradual encroachment of such fast food as Kentucky Fried Chicken (now politically modified to “KFC”). Times were changing. The land became very valuable, and the land under the South Main location was sold in 1973 to one of The Texas Medical Center entities. So, not long after the 1984 death of Mr. Williams, the remaining restaurants closed.
- Year Started: 1932
- Year Ended: 1980
- Origin Of Name: Named after Founder
- Location Sales: Southeast Texas and New Orleans
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Bill Williams
- Owner While In Use: Bill Williams
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken & Seafood Houston
- Naics Code: 722511
- Location Headquarters: Houston, Texas, USA