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Friends, Family, and Forever: A Perfect Beach Wedding

By Tori Phelps  |  Photography by Lesley Isacks

The simple yet spectacular wedding of Shelley Parker and Antonio Poveda-Lopez celebrates the place where they found each other, fell in love, and created a new life together—literally.

The average bride and groom shell out $28,000 for their wedding—about the same price as a brand-new car. But Shelley and Antonio estimate that their wedding costs were more akin to the price of an iPad than an SUV. The results—well, you can see them for yourself. It seems the Beatles had it right all along: “All you need is love.” And these newlyweds certainly have that. VIE Magazine Friends, Family, Forever Perfect Beach Wedding

 

A Million-to-One Shot

How do a girl from Tennessee and a boy from Spain end up happily settled in Northwest Florida? Let’s just say fate had to work extra hard at this pairing. Shelley, who grew up on Signal Mountain outside Chattanooga, was introduced to the area when her parents bought a vacation home off Scenic Highway 30A about thirteen years ago. They moved to Florida permanently when Shelley, their youngest child, went off to school at Auburn University a few years later. After a post-graduation detour to Denver, Shelley joined her folks as a Gulf Coast resident.

Meanwhile, Antonio had made several transatlantic moves on his journey to discovering Florida’s (and Shelley’s) undeniable charms. Raised in a little town outside the Spanish capital of Madrid, Antonio came to the United States as an exchange student when he was seventeen. His host family lived in Shelbina, Missouri, and though he loved this family—they eventually joined Antonio’s parents in meeting Shelley and his first baby in May—what the experience lacked then was a soccer team within a sixty-mile radius. That wasn’t ideal for a player so gifted that he had been a member of pro team Real Madrid’s youth academy in Spain. So Antonio turned to American football, where his position as the kicker kept his athletic abilities fine-tuned enough to earn him multiple university scholarship offers. He decided to play soccer for William Woods University in Missouri, where he graduated with a degree in marketing and advertising and a minor in computer information science.

But he wasn’t done with soccer yet. Antonio was drafted by Ajax Orlando, an affiliate of the Ajax Amsterdam football club and part of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, and later played in England before returning to Spain. Though he landed a job as CEO of the sponsorship and advertisement department in Spain’s top insurance company, an old friend’s wedding in Florida changed the course of his life forever. After one glimpse of the gorgeous beaches and sunny climate, he decided to stay. Soon afterwards, he met Olivier Petit, the owner of the Red Bar, a local hotspot, who offered him a job as a waiter. And then, in walked destiny.

 
When you spend all of your time with someone—working, sleeping, every bit of free time—and still feel as though you can’t get enough, that’s something very special.
 

But he wasn’t done with soccer yet. Antonio was drafted by Ajax Orlando, an affiliate of the Ajax Amsterdam football club and part of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, and later played in England before returning to Spain. Though he landed a job as CEO of the sponsorship and advertisement department in Spain’s top insurance company, an old friend’s wedding in Florida changed the course of his life forever. After one glimpse of the gorgeous beaches and sunny climate, he decided to stay. Soon afterwards, he met Olivier Petit, the owner of the Red Bar, a local hotspot, who offered him a job as a waiter. And then, in walked destiny.

After Shelley was hired as a Red Bar server, Antonio politely introduced himself to the new employee. It was not love at first sight, however, thanks to a Jane Austen–style misunderstanding. “I was awestruck; he was just so dang handsome,” Shelley admits. “So when he shook my hand and made eye contact, I timidly looked away, which Antonio took as me thinking I was too good for him.”

Antonio gave Shelley another chance a few nights later, when he invited her for an after-work drink—and promptly tried to hook her up with his brother, Javier. Believing that romance wasn’t in the cards, Shelley was content to settle into a solid friendship with her coworker until the night he planted a kiss on his “pal” and admitted his feelings had deepened. Immediately inseparable, they were soon working and living together, even arranging their Red Bar schedules so they could work the same shifts. Shelley says it was pretty clear early on that theirs was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. “When you spend all of your time with someone—working, sleeping, every bit of free time—and still feel as though you can’t get enough, that’s something very special.” VIE Magazine Friends, Family, Forever Perfect Beach Wedding

 

Soon, Romeo and Juliet (as their friends dubbed them) were ready to say “I do.” But first, Antonio had to propose—twice. His parents made the trip from Spain to visit the couple in May 2012, and, though the engagement ring he had designed wasn’t quite ready, Antonio decided to pop the question during a dinner that included both sets of parents. About a month later, ring finally in hand, Antonio got down on one knee a second time in their candlelit and rose-petal-strewn home. Sigh  . . .

The double proposal is just one way Antonio and Shelley have celebrated the inexplicable fact that they were somehow thrown together. “We talk about it all the time: ‘What if you hadn’t come to the States? What if you hadn’t been in that wedding? What if I hadn’t decided to move back from Denver?’” Shelley says. “We know our situation is one in a million, and we’re thankful for it every day. It’s crazy—like winning the lottery—so we’re fully aware and enjoy each other as much as we can.” VIE Magazine Friends, Family, Forever Perfect Beach Wedding

 

A Family Is Born

Shelley and Antonio exchanged vows on October 22, 2012—a Monday. Why on a weekday? The twenty-second is an important day for the couple, as Shelley explains: her birthday is January 22, Antonio’s is June 22, and their first big kiss was July 22. Furthermore, the wedding took place just down the beach from the Red Bar, and they knew a Monday, rather than a busy Saturday, would allow more of their work family to join them.

The ceremony was simplicity itself, with just some chairs on the sand for their one hundred guests. “We didn’t even have an altar,” Shelley says. “It was nothing fancy, but it was exactly the way we wanted it.”

It was, in fact, an ideal setting for a bride from the Tennessee mountains and a groom from Madrid who carved out a new life together in an unexpected place. And it helped that their chosen home delivered a paradise-like setting on their wedding day, including a gentle breeze over the sugar-white sand, calm waters on the crystal-blue sea, and an ideal temperature of seventy degrees. VIE Magazine Friends, Family, Forever Perfect Beach Wedding

VIE Magazine Friends, Family, Forever Perfect Beach Wedding  

Many brides would cite a decadent five-tier cake and a stunning designer dress as highlights from their wedding, but Shelley says what she remembers most is the near-tangible love flowing between Antonio and her. Perhaps that’s because the couple came into their wedding headache-free, as they’d consciously decided to skip the usual trappings of big-ticket nuptials. “A wedding is supposed to be happy and joyous—not stressful—so anything that could potentially be stressful was dismissed,” she explains. “We got our cake from Publix, I ordered my dress online for $119, he wore a suit he’d worn in his friend’s wedding, and the rest of the items were donated. By the end of the night, the strap on my dress had fallen off and the bodice was coming unraveled, but who cares? I had my sexy husband on my arm, and we were married. That’s what a wedding is about, after all.”

Their wedding gift from their employer-friend Olivier Petit was a big one: the entire reception. It was meaningful on many levels for the twosome, who had met and fallen in love at the Red Bar. “Oli is, and always will be, a very special person to our family,” Shelley says. “We couldn’t ask for a better boss or friend. He would do anything for his employees and loves us all like we’re family.”

Although Oli would have happily poured champagne for her, Shelley skipped the traditional toast at the reception for a very good reason: About a month before the wedding, she found out she was expecting her first baby. The couple had intended to have a larger, more formal wedding in Spain this fall but will now use the trip to Madrid to christen baby Belén, who was born in late April. The family-centered new parents chose Antonio’s mother’s middle name for their daughter, which means “Bethlehem” (“house of bread”) in Spanish.

 
As for the new little family, life has certainly gotten more complicated—and more beautiful—since their surprise wedding guest made her official debut.

The family moniker is one way to keep that half of the clan close, even when they’re separated geographically. Antonio’s parents recognize that Florida is now home for their son and daughter-in-law, Shelley says, though that doesn’t necessarily make the distance any easier. It helps that they’re able to make the trip from Spain a couple of times a year, though the frequency may increase now that they have a granddaughter to spoil.

As for the new little family, life has certainly gotten more complicated—and more beautiful—since their surprise wedding guest made her official debut. Like all new parents, Shelley says she and her husband have completely shifted their priorities, with their daughter now occupying every waking thought. It’s a change, however, that she relishes. “It’s an amazing thing to look at each other and then look at the child we made together,” Shelley gushes. “There’s no better feeling in the world. I never knew that life could be this good or this happy; we’re blessed beyond belief.”

Both Antonio and Shelley still work at the restaurant that has given them so much, and Antonio continues to volunteer at GulfSouth Dynamo, the community soccer academy he opened to introduce his favorite sport to local kids. Maintaining the status quo during up-all-night feedings and rocking sessions seems like a smart idea, though the couple admits that big changes may be on the horizon—someday. “Working at Red Bar has been a dream job and a great experience that we would love to continue for years to come, but we both have degrees that we intend to use at some point,” Shelley says, confessing that a move to Spain is also a future possibility. “Our main plan right now, though, is just to enjoy as much time together as possible as a family.”

 

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