Director of Operations
For Justin Williams, few places have had as meaningful an impact as the Napa Valley.
It’s where he was born; where his uncle painstakingly tended the vines as vintner manager for Viader Winery; and where, as a 10-year-old, he proudly cooked pasta dinners from scratch for his family, having learned astutely from his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother the handcrafted traditions of Lucca, Italy.
It’s also where he experienced on his 18th birthday the most seminal meal of his life, when he and his mom made their first-ever trek to The French Laundry for a celebratory mother-son lunch. After the last morsel, Williams vowed on the spot he would one day work for Thomas Keller, a pledge he would more than make good on.
A people-person who has always loved to cook, Justin started working in restaurants at age 14 as a dishwasher, immediately falling for the energetic vibe and convivial teamwork. After enrolling at the Culinary Institute of America, he was adamant that the only place he wanted to extern was at The French Laundry, even if the Michelin three-starred landmark took few students. Justin got close – garnering an externship cooking at Keller’s nearby Bouchon Bistro – then took the initiative to realize his goal by spending his free time staging in the kitchen at The French Laundry.
Eventually Justin would become General Manager at Bouchon and at Keller’s Ad Hoc, followed by a stint in that same capacity at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, before joining the Frasca team. He spent four years at the Frasca Hospitality Group in Boulder, CO, founded by French Laundry alums, Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, where he oversaw operations for four establishments, including managing construction and fine-tuning concepts for its Tavernetta restaurant and Sunday Vinyl wine bar.
Following the tumult of the pandemic’s shelter-in-place, Justin and the management team had to furlough Frasca Hospitality’s 150 employees, he desperately longed for a change. He found it in Southern California, where he became CEO of Tradition Golf Club to shepherd the golf community’s transformation into a true luxury boutique lifestyle brand.
A year later in January 2022, after Philip Tessier, executive chef of PRESS, got in touch, Justin realized the timing was right for a return to his roots. For him and his wife, a former dining room captain at The French Laundry, it truly feels like coming home.
As the Director of Operations for St. Helena’s PRESS, Justin rejoins a group of fellow Thomas Keller alums, who are steering the venerated restaurant to the next level iteration that it is today. He endeavors to impart similar practices and principles: “When I retire someday,’’ he says, “I hope people can say that I made an impact on their life, that I helped them become a better professional, and helped them achieve their dreams.’’