Make that 2 coffees and a cake, for here

Couple hold their wedding reception at Annapolis cafe where they first met

December 16, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Main Street served as the church aisle and fellow kaffeeklatschers as congregants.

Champagne toast? Hardly. The bride sipped a breve drink with whipped cream and caramel, and the groom had his usual triple espresso with hazelnut macchiato.

In a city that loves coffee as much as Annapolis does, this was a match made in Starbucks. George B. Sparks III and Leslie A. Baumhower, both in their 40s, met at the City Dock outlet of the ubiquitous coffee chain. And yesterday, it's where they held their wedding reception.

"It's a love story over a cup of coffee," Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, told the couple before they took their vows in the courthouse chapel.

The scene was a testament to how coffee shops are, more than ever, American gathering places. In compact downtown Annapolis, nearly a dozen gourmet coffee shops, including four Starbucks, are open or in the works. For generations on the run, it is one place you don't have to stay late or long, but where you might meet or make a friend.

You might even meet your true love. In this case, she's an office manager in Washington and he's a Saturn car salesman in Bowie. It's his third marriage, her first.

"It's all about keeping it simple, because everything has been so smooth and effortless," Leslie Sparks said, explaining the decision behind the time and place.

The couple met at the coffee shop on May 31, 2003, when she was in rush, but a tual friend insisted on introducing them.

George is a regular; friends compare him to Norm from the old sitcom Cheers, or a talk- show host, freely dispensing good will and advice.

"This is George's table, and this is his chair," said Morton Lapides, standing by a round table facing the door. "He always has words of wisdom. People discuss their personal, business and philosophical problems."

Kelly Meehan, 39, a friend who organized the reception, said, "When you talk to George, he listens to what you have to say. He's like a guardian angel."

When she moved to Annapolis from Philadelphia last year, Meehan said, she burst into tears in the coffee shop, stressed by the area's housing prices. George Sparks happened to be there and helped her cope. Now they take exercise walks around the U.S. Naval Academy.

A Texan, he and Baumhower, a practical Midwesterner, became engaged earlier this year. It was informal. There's no rock on her ring and no honeymoon on the horizon.

As for the wedding, friends did the planning on the fly. Invitations were not mailed; they were placed last week in plain view on the countertop at the Starbucks, welcoming anyone to stop by the free hourlong reception.

Yesterday, Leslie Sparks was the picture of ease, wearing a red sweater, white skirt and pearls.

"It's all about keeping it simple," she said.

Her relationship with George is like that, she said, adding that meeting him was as lucky as finding a parking spot on Main Street.

Fittingly, all the elements came together in a spontaneous social ballet. After the brief, intimate wedding ceremony, the couple walked hand in hand down the brick-lined sidewalk. Morning traffic paused to acknowledge the passing parade.

Inside the cafe, it was business as usual in the front, while in a back corner, the couple greeted the stream of well-wishers, including a few strangers. Among them was former WJLA-TV anchor Kathleen Matthews, who shook the couple's hands and promptly alerted the station.

Barista Philip Davis, 25, was inspired to suggest a takeoff of a Naval Academy wedding ritual, in which newlyweds run out of the chapel and under an arch of swords. Instead of holding weapons overhead, the wedding guests yesterday brandished empty paper cups as George and Leslie Sparks ducked underneath.

A district manager for the coffee chain, Charles E. Sanders, snapped a few pictures of the couple, with the prompting, "Say `Starbucks' for me."

George Sparks said no family members were present. But, he added, "Our friends are our family. These are the people we run with, that we see every day."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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