85-year-old Wilmington chef retires after 40 years in the same kitchen

Evelena Leslie retired on Janurary 22 after working close to 40 years in the same kitchen. (Source: WECT)
Evelena Leslie retired on Janurary 22 after working close to 40 years in the same kitchen. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - At what age do you think you should retire from your job?

The average retirement age in the United States is around 62, but that number does not mean anything to Evelena Leslie.

At the age of 85, the pint-sized chef has been cooking up a storm at Hieronymus Seafood Restaurant in Wilmington since the 1980s.

On Jan. 22, Evelena finally retired. Her co-workers threw her a retirement party, but in true Evelena fashion, it only lasted a few minutes because she had work to do in the kitchen.

Many of you might know her best by her popular, delicious, and creamy She Crab Soup.

"A lot of time when I walk out the door to go home people will say 'Ms. Ev, we like your soup,'" she said smiling.

Of course, WECT tried to get the recipe, or at least a few ingredients, she used in the special soup.

"Are you are going to tell me one secret about your soup," reporter Casey Roman said.

"Love, a lot of love in it," Evelena said with a chuckle.

So, no inside scoop was given, but we did learn the secret recipe boils down to the type of pot she uses.

"I am always saying don't use my pots," Evelena said.

"Why," Casey inquired. "A pot is a pot, Evelena."

"No, not all the time," Evelena fired back.

However, the real story is what made the pint-sized chef stay in the same kitchen since 1980.

"This is the only job I like. I like food," she said.

Like any job, turnover is going to happen, so in 1998 new owners Skip and Dawn Hames took over.

"When we bought the restaurant, we negotiated that everyone would stay," Dawn said.

In 1998, Evelena was 67 years old, well over the average age of retirement, but still that crossed her mind.

"My husband used to come home every night amazed at the stamina of Ms. Evelena," Hames said. "She was in her 70's and he was in his 30's and she would work him day after day."

Evelena said her mother raised her to do her job well and not quit until the job was done. A trait she said she sees fading in the younger generations.

"They work hard but they still look for something easy," Evelena explained. "So they make it easy for the other people looking for a job because they are not going to do what I did."

What Evelena did was an understatement. She was in charge of making soups, deserts, prepping food and even dish duty.

Even the owners said it's going to take three separate people to do the job of one Evelena.

"It was 100 percent, there was no 90 percent, 80 percent, the quality had to be there," Hames said.

Now, that Evelena is retired, WECT asked her what she plans to do with all her spare time.

"Ahhh, sleep," she said as she laughed and smiled.

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