Elois Lettley

by Tonya Dixon | November 17th, 2015
Elois Lettley

Elois Lettley

The restaurant and food service business is difficult to say the least. It takes many working and moving parts to make it operate efficiently, not to mention all of the things that could go wrong, which could tarnish a business for what may seem like a lifetime.

Although it’s something everyone needs and wants, the work is often long, tiring and thankless. As harsh as the business can be, Occasions II Restaurant and Catering has experienced enormous success since 1997 when owner Elois Lettley took over the restaurant.

Situated in downtown Burlington, N.C., Occasions has quickly become known as the areas go-to restaurant and caterer for delicious, down home, homemade southern delights. Every Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. customers flock to the expansive restaurant for what some would consider the best lunch buffet around. Upon entering the restaurant, customers senses are roused with the aroma of fried and baked chicken, fish, greens, mac and cheese, fresh rolls and cornbread and everything else that is slated for the days menu.

The food selection varies each day, but Lettley says the demand is so high for some items like the chicken and mac and cheese that she simply has to include them every day. Friday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. she offers a special soul food buffet in which customers are treated with anything from barbeque ribs to chitterlings. Sundays belong to Occasions as well. From 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. dinner is no longer a chore. The buffet awaits.
Lettley enjoys what she does, but admits it was never something she initially desired to do or even had extensive training in.

“I had 11 siblings so it was a big family. It was a total of 12 people my mom had to cook for, so I was used to her cooking large quantities of food; that’s also where I learned. Here I try to keep mom’s recipes. I learned to stretch it for 400 or 500 people and try to make it taste the same,” she says.|

Other than growing up cooking for her large family, the only other food service experience she had was a job she held at a local burger hut while living in New York. In fact, the Caswell County native left the area bound for New York immediately after graduating high school. She became employed by the Bank of Tokyo, where she worked in stocks and bonds. She subsequently returned to North Carolina and began working at what was then Wachovia Bank. Following that she worked as a nursing assistant then received her degree to work in telemetry watching heart monitors.

Eventually Lettley was proposed with the opportunity to take over the already established Occasions Restaurant. She accepted the venture but admits the beginning wasn’t as easy as it now appears.

“The first Sunday that I opened, I only had 30 people show up and I said to myself, ‘Oh my! What have I gotten myself into?’ Now if I don’t have 400, I ask myself what happened?” she says. “It’s basically home cooking and it’s economical. It’s what people like and it’s good old fashioned home cooking at a very reasonable price.”

Not only did she take it, but she took it and ran with it. Since then the restaurant has experienced tremendous growth, including its full-service catering services. Unbeknownst to Lettley, the wide range of her work experience combined for the perfect knowledge she needed to operate her own business.

Occasions is capable of accommodating a capacity of up to 400. The fully equipped facility can also be rented for large or small private events, including some simultaneously. Many local organizations currently host monthly lunches or dinner meetings at the restaurant. With an easily manipulated layout and even a spacious dance floor, the restaurant is a perfect venue for weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties and nearly anything else imaginable.

Everything offered in the restaurant and much more is available through Occasions catering services. Custom packages of every sort are offered including breakfast, barbeque, wedding, schools, corporate, churches and many more. If an event surrounds a special theme Occasions has that covered as well. Lettley offers everything from Mardi Gras meals to traditional tailgate dishes. With over 25 employees, event service is also available.
Lettley is grateful and satisfied with the public’s warm reception of her restaurant, but that certainly doesn’t mean she’s content. Whatever she can do to grow her business and make it better she’s certainly considering it.

Nearly six months ago, Lettley and her husband opened a new restaurant — PeeWee’s Express. The intent was to offer good, lighter fare food at a quicker pace, which is exactly what they did. However, Lettley admits many people were still requesting some of the staples of the restaurant and they have happily obliged. Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. customers can order everything from a hotdog or fish sandwich combo to a chopped barbeque or chitterling plate. It’s no wonder PeeWee’s is growing by leaps and bounds.

Lettley has more potential plans in the works, especially to add an additional night of buffet particularly as a family or community night. No matter what is next for Lettley and Occasions, it’s certain to be enjoyed and appreciated by local lovers of good, quality food and service.

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