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How Did You Become an Off-Site Caterer?

Based in Atlanta Georgia, Occasional Occasions by Carlton, is an off-premises catering company, with a reputation for great food served with a slice of southern hospitality.  Owner Carlton Brown dived into the world of catering and soon discovered he had a talent in the kitchen, and his hosting skills have been a touchdown ever since.  Carlton explains, “my mother was a home economics teacher, and my father was a cook in the United States Marine Corp.  I never had the desire to cook anything until my final tour of duty for the U.S. Air Force in Newbury, England.  From there, I roomed with a staff sergeant whose exquisite taste and skills in table service dazzled me into becoming a waiter at the Royal Air Force Base Officer’s Club where I was stationed.  In contrast to my identical twin brother Calvin’s natural abilities in the kitchen, I was a slow enthusiast, so slow that the only meal I knew how to prepare once back in the US was spaghetti.”

On his return, Carlton went on to study computer science and landed a job at Southern Bell (Bellsouth), but the thought of working in the food industry was lingering in his mind.  Carlton recalls, “I decided that since I had not yet quite mastered the art of the kitchen, it wouldn’t hurt to attend culinary school, just so I could pick up a few tips.  While enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta, a very close friend of mine had just purchased a beautiful home and when asked of his plans for his house warming, he replied ‘I’m going to purchase trays from Kroger’s.’  I assured him that this would not fare well with his snooty friends.  Although I had never catered anything a day in my life, I offered to prepare the food for his housewarming and asked in return that he simply reimburse me for the cost of the food.”

Carlton had three months to plan for his friend’s party.  He was adamant to leave the guests with the impression that a legitimate caterer had been hired, even going as far as to think up a name.  Carlton says, “whilst at my desk at Southern Bell I pondered the name.  I knew that I wouldn’t do this sort of thing very often, but I would do the ‘occasional occasion’ and that is how Occasional Occasions by Carlton was born.”

Carlton ordered a $10 pack of business cards from the local print shop, and when it came to game day, he put the buffet table together and placed his cards in the middle of the table.  Carlton recalls, “So, this is where it gets crazy.  About two weeks after this party, someone called me and asked “how much would it cost to cater a party for 30 people?” I asked him, why are you asking me that question?  He replied, ‘I picked up your card from Jerry’s party.’  My response ‘those cards were not meant for you to pick up.’  Never in a million years would I have guessed that someone would call me about catering.”

Carlton used the fact that he was enrolled in culinary school to his advantage, firing questions at his tutors, so that he may learn as many tricks of the trade as possible.  He soon realized that his passion was in catering not computers and corporate America.  Carlton smiles, “after 9.5 years with Southern Bell, I decided to make a huge change and officially start my company.  Over the course of time, food has gradually shifted from being a basic need, to transforming my life into one of joy and purpose as a formidable caterer in Atlanta’s hot hospitality scene.”

Occasional Occasions by Carlton, now boasts a “who’s who” of celebrity and corporate giant clients, due to its innovative cuisine, dramatic presentations and customer service, quintessential of timeless southern hospitality.  Carlton has a full-time chef and several part-time staff, along with a virtual support team, and it is a 100% off-premises catering company.  He has been in the business 25 years, with the last 4 years targeting corporate clients.  Carlton explains, “I’ve always seen the corporate and private clients catering in home for those events.  I think that they want to make it a little more personal and outside-the-office atmosphere, so I’ve seen an increase in corporate parties in the home.  I also think that with how busy everyone is these days, clients want to enjoy their parties after trying to handle everything themselves for so long.

Carlton and his team have catered some very grand off-premises events but his proudest moment was an event he couldn’t pass on, a real scoring opportunity!  Occasional Occasions by Carlton were one of the selected caterers for the NFL Super Bowl LIII Tailgating Party in Atlanta, GA.  Carlton says, “I can’t really give a lot of detail because the NFL is extremely secretive and did not want us to mention where the event was and who was invited.  We were also not allowed to take pictures.  The only thing that I feel comfortable in sharing is that we served 3000 portions of our Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili, along with 3000 servings of our cornbread fritters for this NFL tailgating party, and it took a total of 40 caterers to pull off the event.”

Photos were taken at the Atlanta Chapter Monthly NACE meeting at The Besharat Art Gallery in Atlanta.  All pics are taken by Photographer Arlene Dicks at www.arlenedicks.net.

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