Stop 58: The 1908 business with 1926 building of Williams/The 1981 Lunch on Limoges
The 1908 business with 1926 building of William’s Department Store and later celebrity restaurant, Lunch on Limoges.
In contemporary days, the restaurant, Lunch on Limoges outshines the Williams Department Store where it is housed in terms of fame and notoriety. William’s Department Store ‘business operation’ opened in 1908, as a Racket Store. Oscar Nathaniel “O.N.” Williams created the business as a haberdashery of all nature of items. It was originally located in the Nabors Jewelry Store space in Griffin Block (Stop 35). The business was to move three times before the current permanent site was constructed.
You ask what is a racket store? Well, it was a term that was used for privately owned stores which offered shoes, groceries, dry goods, hardware, tableware, washtubs, ready-to-wear clothing for men and women and generally were known for their low prices.
The founder was Oscar Nathaniel “O.N.” Williams. He was born in Bulloch County, Georgia in 1855, and moved to Florida. He married Amanda “Belle” Tucker and lived initially in Orlando before moving to Dade City. He was a circuit preacher for 38 years and established 38 churches in various parts of the state. He also represented Pasco County in the state legislature in 1915. He was also a businessman in Dade City for fourteen years. His obit in the Dade City Banner read:
Elder Oscar Nathaniel Williams, a leading dry goods merchant of Dade City, died at his home Friday afternoon and was buried from his residence yesterday morning. The deceased was a prominent minister of the Baptist church and was stricken with paralysis while at Sanford in attendance on a church convention, December 8. The funeral was largely attended all of the business houses in town being closed. (1922)
In the 1910’s O. N’s son, John Robert Alonzo (“JRA” known as Bob) Williams who was involved from the inception of the store, assumed control of the store. They prospered and soon built a new brick store, the one we recognize today which they moved into in 1926. The establishment featured clothes for all members of the family, fabrics, sewing notions, and even sewing machines. Milliners came into town periodically and fashioned hats for customers. Bob Williams married one of the milliners, Annalee Tucker. Eventually, his younger brother Virgil began working in the store and later Virgil and his wife, Virginia bought out the Bob and Annalee.
On Saturdays, throughout these years, all enjoyed the social climate of Dade City as folks came in to do their weekly shopping and socializing.
Right on cue, Virgil’s son, Phil Williams began working in the store in high school as a third generation of the family. Off to seek a different life, Phil earned a bachelor’s degree from Principia College in Illinois and later graduated from New York University School of Retailing where he interned at Lord & Taylor in New York City. From there Phil worked in various stores in New York and California. After a stint at home in Dade City to work out some issues with the store for his parents, he recognized the southern charm once again and decided he would like to follow his father. In 1966, he purchased Williams Department Store with a sincere commitment to keeping the caring and attentive service.
In 1981, Williams and his partner Skipper Mize opened Lunch on Limoges in the retail business as a way to bring more customers into the fashion center. They also opened the Pink Peacock in Winter Park. Williams and Mize combined vacations with buying trips around the world…netting jams, spices, preserves, the latest couture, and unusual items. Their taste in not only gourmet food but upscale attire became legendary. The local civic clubs hosted annual themed fashion shows around town and in the restaurant with sold-out tickets annually. Numerous accolades were given the gourmet restaurant including a spread in the March 1995 Southern Living Magazine and state distinction as business of the year.
As for the building, Phil and Skipper worked hard to restore the aging structure by preserving the stamped tin ceilings and stripping paint from the original brick front to bring it back to its original glory.
With the passing of Phil Williams in 2021, Mize carefully contemplated the keepers of this exquisite place that occupied the lives of three generations of the Williams family. The town was delighted that brothers, Blair and Ethan Hensley of Brooksville purchased the business.
As their website states:
“Coming from a family full of cooks, they have been in the kitchen for as long as they can remember. Growing up, the brothers were fortunate enough to have their Granny Lewis live with them, who would regularly cook 3 meals a day the old-fashioned way. With their mother Larie, known for her long-lasting restaurant Mallie Kylas, the boys both started working in the restaurant industry at a young age. It was only a matter of time before they ventured out on their own.
Ethan studied culinary art a NECI and was mentored by Chef Mike Lascola. Blair graduated from the University of West Alabama and then worked on a restaurant with incredible history in Brooksville called Farmer John’s bringing it back to life. Their Florida Cracker Kitchen opened in 2012 with wonderful growing success. In 2021, they took on another legacy, Dade City’s famed Lunch on Limoges.”