The desire for self-determination is a common thread among entrepreneurs, and Roderick Williams is a prime example.
"I just didn't like being in a position where my destiny was controlled by that of the corporation," he says. "I figured that if you want to be in control of your own destiny, the best thing to do is be in business for yourself."
This is not a new concept to Williams, both of whose parents have their own businesses. He credits his mother with instilling an entrepreneurial attitude in him from an early age.
"She's been in business for herself since I graduated from high school in '83," he explains. "She owned a few beauty salons and then did corporate recruiting for a large staffing firm in San Jose before she started her own staffing firm in 1989.
"I learned a lot from my mother she's always been my mentor, the person that I could look to for guidance in business."
Williams, a San Francisco native and graduate of Serra High in San Mateo started cooking at an early age. The turning point was one memorable meal where his older sister forgot to add any seasoning to some chicken she had made.
"At that point in time I said to myself, 'OK Roderick it's really time for you to cook,'" he laughs.
He could cook french fries by himself at age eight and by the time he was 11, he was cooking entire meals.
"I really took a liking to cooking when I started," he says. "It was something that I loved to do. Cooking is something that's been a passion of mine."
Throughout his time as a young chef, Williams began to build a reputation as a good cook among his friends and when he pledged to a fraternity at San Jose State, his fraternity brothers put him to work.
"I had known two of them since sixth or seventh grade and they had always known me to cook, so when I was a pledge, they had me cook for all the visitations," he says. "I had to cook them breakfast, lunch, or dinner."
After he graduated, cooking took a background role.
"As you get out of college, you start having friends and family over on holidays, so that's where the barbecue really came together."
Meanwhile, he had started working for Applied Materials, the Santa Clara-based manufacturer of capital equipment used to produce silicon wafers and chips. He began as an administrative assistant, then worked in marketing, customer service, as a buyer planner, and finally as a product marketing engineer during his eight years at the company.
"Having had so many jobs at Applied Materials, I really learned a lot about the business," he says. "Having experience in buyer planning really made me successful as a product marketing engineer because I understood the lead times involved in getting certain parts. There's so much that has to come together mechanical engineering, software, manufacturing that it can be difficult to meet deadlines.
"I would say my greatest accomplishment there was getting $70 million worth of equipment out in ten months, on time. It was the first time in the history of the company it had been done."
Despite the fact that he left the company, he says he enjoyed his time there a great deal.
"The most gratifying experience was when I was a buyer planner for the new products division," he says. "I was responsible for beta site testing of a new product and had to travel to customer sites Sharp, IBM, Texas Instruments, Hyundai, and Samsung so that I could set the stocking level for the spare parts that would be kept on site.
"That fell right into the restaurant business because you have to set your stocking level for food, too."
He also learned a lot about customer service during his time at Applied Materials.
"I want every customer to be happy, so if there's something someone's not pleased about here, let me know, as your customers do when you sell them a $5 million piece of equipment," he says. "Customer satisfaction is the most important thing."
It's doubtful that Williams has had many complaints, however. His food is delicious.
"The one thing I can say that really sets us apart from a lot of other places is that everything is made from scratch here," he says. "Your greens are always fresh greens, your onions are fresh, macaroni and cheese is fresh, potato salad and cole slaw are fresh I'm not into the canned yams and the frozen greens they just don't taste the same."
He also enjoys the creativity that's involved in cooking and coming up with new dishes.
"I love buying cookbooks and looking at different recipes, looking at the combination of spices," he says. "When you start learning about different spices and see how one reacts to the other, that's interesting to me. It's like the engineers at Applied Materials who would be happy mixing gases to make something happen in the chamber."
The initial customer response Roderick's opened in May has been good.
"This past Friday, we had a lady come all the way from San Jose just to have the barbecue, so that was a good feeling," he says. "We've also had numerous phone calls from customers who picked the food up and took it home, then called back and expressed how much they loved the food."
Williams has started to unveil some special dishes as well, drawing on his early experience with Southern cooking.
"We've had a red beans and rice special on Fridays and Saturdays, and sometimes we'll have seafood gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp etoufee. All those nice little Southern dishes that you don't expect to see will be here on the special menus."
Roderick's is open from Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner and on Saturday evenings from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. He's also set his sights on the corporate catering market, although his immediate goals are getting the last of his signs up and his logo silkscreened onto his windows.
He's also going to have the sign company paint his daughter's name onto his smoker, the most important piece of equipment at the restaurant.
"I can do 150 full slab ribs at a time, 250 baby back ribs, 75 large turkeys we're going to be doing a lot of turkeys come Thanksgiving and Christmas."
It's an exciting time for Williams as he experiences the thrill of both starting a new business and of realizing a dream.
"One thing that I always wanted to do was to own my own business, but I didn't know what that business was," he says. "Now, it's here. The love and the passion for cooking has come in and now I just have to do it on a much larger scale."
With his great food and infectious enthusiasm, he's sure to succeed.
Roderick's BBQ & Seafood is at 5681 Gibraltar Drive. Their phone number is (925) 251-0610.
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