No matter how much Sandy Welker loves the New York Deli, she could never have predicted she'd be getting married there Saturday night, Dec. 9, to the surprise of other diners and even the family members at her table.
She and Paul Ramatowski tied the knot in a covert wedding operation they'd hatched over the past month or so, working with the deli's new owners to pull off their big, romantic secret complete with silver bands, vows to keep laughter in their hearts, and plates full of Reubens and Sailors.
It seems that Welker's childhood attachment to the deli when she used to fetch the sandwich order for her grandparents' nearby business was strong enough to make the place a personal touchstone. She took dates there, made some of her biggest decisions there and, when the deli was sold last summer, wrote a letter of lament that was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
By the time the place reopened this year, she had a new beau and had renewed her affection for the deli, unfazed by its dramatic changes. It was a comfort just to be there, she says.
Ramatowski proposed to her over dinner one night, and soon the details of an off-the-wall ceremony fell into place.
They called Alane Cameron Miles, a minister at First Unitarian Church, and requested she drop by at the appointed hour. They assembled their families for a holiday dinner. No one noticed that Sandy's nerves were just a tad on edge or that two small rubber chickens were tied to a couple of ring boxes on the table near the poinsettias.
They started things off with a champagne toast, then announced to the table (and all within earshot) that they were celebrating the wedding of Sandy and Paul.
"It was short and sweet, and we played one song, Alice Peacock's 'If You Could Only See Your Eyes,' and to me it was so personal, even right there in public," Sandy says. "It felt like it was just the two of us. Our families were saying, 'Omigosh, did you know they were going to do this?' and we said this is it. This is the love of my life."
Sandy's son, 13-year-old Andrew Welker, managed to keep the secret all weekend. Of her son's relationship with her new husband, Sandy says: "They love each other and it's great and he's so excited."
"We like to laugh a lot," she adds. "We're two nerds in a pod, and we've both been in Richmond forever. What took us so long to find each other?" S