THE owners of a family-run cafe are stepping down after 37 “wonderful years” of cooking fry-ups and making teas for the residents of Rayleigh. 

Sheila Tillett, 74, first became owner of the Rayleigh Lanes Cafe in 1986 and has roped in a number of family members in to work with her since.

Both Sheila’s daughter, Linsey Hill, 44, and son Tony Tillett, 48, have worked in the kitchen and behind the tills over the years, as well as daughter-in-law Sam Tillett. 

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The family business has been a huge hit over the years, and the announcement that the Tilletts will leave on Saturday - passing it on to new owners - has been met with an outpouring of sadness. 

Sheila originally began by working in the cafe, but after just six months the opportunity arose for her to become owner 

She said: “When it first opened, I came and worked for the gentleman here at the time, but after six months his wife died, so I took over.

“It has just grown from there and become bigger and bigger, with all my family working here, including my son, daughter, son’s wife, and even my grandson on a Saturday. It has been wonderful. 

“But now I am 74, we all think it is time to pass it on, and time I enjoyed myself.

“The community over the years has been brilliant, that is what has kept us going.

“A lot of them are like family to me, they mean the world. We have created such a special community environment which has just grown as the years have gone by.”

Saturday will be the family’s last day working at the cafe, with the business already fully booked by customers who are keen to say their goodbyes. 

The family also released a joint statement outside the cafe announcing their decision, saying “they will cherish the memories made here forever”.

They said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank our lovely customers for the loyalty you have shown over the last 37 years, without you we would not have enjoyed our time here as much as we have.

“It has been an unbelievable journey and we take with us wonderful memories that we will cherish forever.

“Many of you were customer, that we have now become friends with and I am sure we will bump into each other at some stage.

“So, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you and goodbye.”