Supplier in the Spotlight: Occasional Occasions by Carlton

| By James Gleason

What's the secret to creating the perfect catered event? Just ask the eponymous Carlton Brown of LGBTBE Occasional Occasions by Carlton. With over 20 years of experience in the catering business, Carlton specializes in elevating events through his eye for flair and delicious food. 

Occasional Occasions by Carlton in the Spotlight:

  • Name of business: Occasional Occasions by Carlton
  • Name of founder: Carlton A. Brown
  • Date founded: January 1994
  • Date certified: 2015
  • Location of business: Atlanta, GA
  • Number of employees: 2 full-time employees and several part-time employees.

1. What is Occasional Occasions by Carlton?

We are a boutique-style, custom catering company specializing in contemporary southern cuisine. We cater for intimate events with under 100 guests.

2. What were you doing before you founded your business?

I am a veteran and after I got out of the USAF, I moved to Atlanta to get a degree in Computer Science at Devry University.  After receiving my degree, I worked in management at Southern Bell/BellSouth from 1985-1994. In 1994, I officially launched my business Occasional Occasions by Carlton.

3. How did you get the concept or idea for your business?

It was purely by accident. I decided to enroll in culinary school just for the education aspect of it.  While I was enrolled, my partner at the time had just purchased a beautiful home. I asked him what food he was going to have for his housewarming party and his reply was “I’m going to buy trays from Kroger.”  Knowing his friends, I couldn’t let him do that and so I offered to cater his event as long as he reimbursed me for the cost of food. While sitting at my desk at Southern Bell, I was determined to come up with a name for this pseudo catering company. I knew that I would not be catering parties that often, but I would probably cater the “Occasional Occasion.”  And that is how the name was birthed. 

When it came time for the party, I had no idea what I was doing, but I decorated the table as best as I knew how and placed my cards in the middle of the table.  The event went very well for someone who did not know what he was doing. 

A couple of weeks later someone called and asked how much do I charge for a party. I received more similar calls and decided to explore this avenue. I started asking my instructors at culinary school many questions.  It was not too long after that that I realized I enjoyed catering much more than playing with computers, and in 1994 I made the bold decision to leave Southern Bell/Bellsouth and to pursue my dreams.

4. What makes your business stand out when compared to other businesses in your field?

My business stands out for a few reasons.  My military background instilled great attention to detail in me, and I am a true believer in customer service, so I deliver great customer service and detail every day. My mother was an economics teacher and my father was a cook in the USMC, so I guess I had the genes to be a chef all along! I had never worked for another catering company before so I had no idea how to actually run a catering company. Because of this, many of my ideas are unorthodox, but in the large scheme of things, I think that this is a huge advantage. I run my business thinking outside of the box and delivering aspects of catering that my competitors are not.

5. What are your goals for your business? Where do you hope to see your business in one, five, ten years?

Three years ago, we had a huge growth spurt and we had to lease a kitchen due to our growth.  My goals are to grow my business to support this new reality and to grow my business outside of just traditional catering.  We will be incorporating cooking classes, renting out our kitchen for other food providers when we are not in the kitchen, and recently we have started a division that executes table for two in your home, called “Table for 2 by Carlton.”  We now offer party platters and we also provide corporate drop off.

6. How has being a member of the LGBT community impacted your business, if at all?

I have never had a lot of business relationships with the LGBT community in the past and couldn’t really break into the community, but joining the NGLCC has opened many of those doors for me.  I’ve been honored with the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (AGLCC) Member of the Year for 2016 and AGLCC Business Man of the Year for 2017.

7. How has being a Certified LGBTBE through NGLCC impacted your business?

It has opened doors of opportunities for me such as landing me ongoing positions with Southern Company.  I’ve also been approached by PGA and was invited to Charlotte, NC for an interview to provide services for PGA 2017.  The opportunities are never-ending.

8. What advice would you give to an LGBT person starting a business?

Building relationships are important for the growth of your company and there’s no better place to do that than to join your local LGBT chamber of commerce.  It’s also important to take advantage of networking and other avenues where you can build relationships.

This blog post is part of a series celebrating Black History Month 2018 by highlighting the contributions of black LGBT business owners. Interested in having your LGBTBE in the spotlight? Email [email protected].