BELLINGHAM – Andrew and Christine Farwell didn't mean to end up in the middle of an ad campaign for pizza when they got married last month. But that's what happened when they ordered the main course from Papa Gino's in Woonsocket for their socially-distanced ceremony.
And you know what? They're totally okay with that.
The Nashville couple are New England natives who grew up eating Papa Gino's. They had to make some heartbreaking concessions for the nuptials due to COVID-19, but ordering pizza from the familiar vendor was like having an old friend over for dinner.
“We live down here in Nashville, but that was one of our staples growing up,” said Andrew. “To have them be part of our day was kind of exciting.”
The resiliency of pizza has been one of the brights spots in the economy during the pandemic – planning weddings, not so much.
The Farwells began planning theirs back in November – before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. The idea was to have a big wedding with all the frills at the Warren Conference Center, a big farm-like spread in Ashland., Mass., that's convenient to Christine's mother's house in Bellingham.
They set the date for July 11 and had originally planned on having a fancy outdoor reception with about 200 guests. They'd been traveling back and forth to the local area from Tennessee to firm up the arrangements, including a trip for a food tasting, until shortly before the time when Massachusetts – and Rhode Island, for that matter – cracked down on large group gatherings, around mid-March.
“Then March went by and April went by and May went by and soon were were realizing the prospect of having a 200-person wedding like we planned was growing less likely by the day,” said Andrew.
“We finally decided to get married after 13 years and they shut the economy down, so that was fun,” adds Christine.
As the couple's focus began shifting to the challenges of pivoting to a celebration that would be compliant with the prevailing social distancing mandates handed down through Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the beefy guest list was one of the first things to get the heave-ho.
They settled on a tidy roster of about 30 relatives and close friends, and they swapped out the large reception venue for the backyard of the home of Christine's mother, Kathy Claffey, off Lake Street.
To make sure guests were adequately physically distanced, they established “social bubbles” to isolate distinct groups of families and friends. Each group was given its own section, separated by at least six feet, at long tables.
Guests arrived with masks, though they were permitted to take them off when they sat down to eat and mingle within their bubbles, much like restaurant patrons do now during Phase 3 of the reopening of the economy. While the Farwells stopped short of calling them party favors, masks, hand-sanitizer and rubber gloves were provided for anyone who wanted them.
The Farwells took extra care to make sure the food was a risk-free experience for their guests. Instead of a large wedding cake, they served individual cupcakes. There were no buffet-style appetizer trays; instead, cheese and crackers made the rounds in individually wrapped cellophane packets.
And if there was a pandemic-friendly choice for a main course, it was pizza, the Farwells explained. It's pre-cooked. It comes in a box and guests could serve themselves without someone else touching their food.
So they ordered 15 of them from Papa Gino's on Diamond Hill Road in Woonsocket.
Andrew and Christine, who are both 34 years old, had a few photographs of themselves taken noshing on the nuptial pies during mealtime.
Thanks to a photographer friend of the Farwells who has connections in the marketing and public relations industry, one of the photos found its way to Instagram.
Through the magic of social media, the photo of the pizza-chomping newlyweds came to the attention of Boston-based Castle Group, an advertising company that handles promotions and public relations for Papa Gino's.
During the pandemic, the company has been cranking out press releases about Papa Gino's ramping up its contactless delivery services and partnerships with to-go courier companies. But the Farwells' story about making its client the main course at their wedding seemed unique, according to Eric Donovan, a Castle Group account executive.
“We do monitor for that kind of thing,” he says, but as far as he knows, pizza isn't making inroads as a wedding trend.
Despite the fact that Andrew and Chrstine are both event planners by trade – he's a concert promoter for a private company in Nashville, she works in Vanderbilt University's art and enterprise department – the couple says that planning a small, socially-distant wedding seems to take as much heavy lifting as getting ready for a normal one. In fact, in some ways, it was much more difficult.
“You're doing all the work,” says Christine. “There's a lot of yard work involved. The whole week leading up to the wedding.”
Between the social restrictions associated with COVID-19 and the exhaustion of preparing for the ceremony, the Farwells didn't feel up to having a honeymoon afterwards. Instead, they hunkered down for a spell in New Hampshire, where Christine's mother has a seasonal home in Bristol. It was a fitting place to reflect, since that's where her future husband proposed to her.
And they haven't given up on their plans for a more elaborate event to celebrate getting hitched – they've decided to try again, next year, with a renewal of vows and a guest list worthy of normal times.
But they hardly feel shortchanged by their cozy, COVID-era stroll down the backyard aisle with a few slices of pizza. It was intimate and personal. Somehow, even their economized vows seemed “sweeter” to Christine.
The guests liked it too.
“We had people tell us after it was they best wedding they'd ever been to,” she says.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo