1 year and 19 days ago I got a text I’ll never forget. It was from my friend Sam from Gus and Ruby Letterpress, located in Portsmouth, NH where our next wedding was being held at a charming little restaurant called Louie’s. It read: “this news has to affect you, right? Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” I had no clue what she was talking about so I went to the Google Machine and typed in “news from Portsmouth, NH.” And I found this.
The date was Monday, April 10. On Sunday, April 9, the couple and I were in Portsmouth for our final walkthrough at the restaurant to review all of the final details of the day. We reviewed the timeline, which was done; the floorplan and seating chart, which were finalized; the menu and dinner service details, which were decided. We were ready, the restaurant was ready, the couple was ready. And then, it all went up in flames (literally).
What happened next still feels like a whirlwind, and if I wrote out every detail, we’d be here for days. But suffice it to say: I met with the couple, Nick and Leah, to talk through all of our options, and we threw around so many different ideas for what shape this wedding should take – we wanted to stay as close to the original feel of a restaurant wedding as we could since the couple both work in the industry and couldn’t really imagine their wedding being held anywhere other than a restaurant.
I called every single restaurant in the city of Portsmouth and the surrounding areas to see whether any of them could host the wedding. None of them could. I then called every single event space in the city of Portsmouth and the surrounding areas to see whether any of them could host the wedding. None of them could. Each time we had a bit of hope that someone may be able to accommodate us, it was squashed. It felt so defeating, but there literally was not time to feel defeated.
At 9 days away from their wedding date, we decided we had to let go of the idea of sticking as close to the original plan as possible and just get a space – any kind of space – that could host this wedding nailed down.
We approached The Hotel Portsmouth – who, throughout this entire process, put on a clinic of what it means to be hospitable – to see whether we may be able to use the hotel in a larger capacity than originally anticipated for the weekend. For the first time in 10 days, we caught our first lucky break: because every room in the hotel was booked by or blocked off for Nick and Leah’s guests, the hotel granted us permission to use the hotel in whatever way we please(!). And so, naturally, we decided to stake a tent into their parking lot and hold the wedding there.
From then on, every single person we worked with to pull this wedding together from scratch in nine days was an absolute rockstar. First and foremost, the Groom, who worked tirelessly to figure out how we could cater this wedding (the refrigeration and kitchen at Louie’s was destroyed – even though they could still cater the wedding, they had no refrigeration or prep space to work out of).
The couple’s friends and colleagues in the restaurant industry rallied around them hard – Island Creek Oysters pitched in product and a live shucker for a raw bar (part of the original menu at the restaurant but something they could no longer provide because of the refrigeration problem). Alcohol was donated. Formaggio Kitchen hooked up a ridiculous cheese and charcuterie situation. We borrowed things we suddenly needed, since we were now building a wedding venue in the middle of a parking lot, like trash cans, galvanized tubs, and bar accessories from the amazing folks at Loco Taqueria and Oyster Bar.
We ordered linens through the linen distributor at the Groom’s restaurant. That same restaurant offered either a) cook all of the food for the wedding or b) lend its kitchen so the folks from Louie’s could prep the food for the wedding there – an incredibly, incredibly generous offer that goes to show just how much love they have for Nick and Leah.
I could go on, and on – the point here is that we could have never pulled this off without the couple’s hard work and without their friends, colleagues, and families doing whatever they possibly could to help them out.
From my end, it was an eye opening experience that reminded me just how far (good) wedding vendors will go to ensure their couples have a successful wedding day. Each and every person we worked with – those who were booked before the fire, and those who came on board with just 9 days to go – was accommodating and willing to go above and beyond to make sure Nick and Leah’s wedding went as smoothly as it possibly could have.
I first called on my team, letting them know the scope of the wedding had changed and we now needed more bodies onsite – and also that it was a volunteer situation with no pay – and every single one of them made themselves available on a Saturday they weren’t originally scheduled for, piled in a car and drove from Boston to Portsmouth, and arrived ready to put their heads down and work that day.
Alethia from Alethia Williams Photography arrived home from an international trip just a few days before this wedding to learn of our change of plans. She took all of our updates in stride and was game for anything we added/changed from what we’d originally talked through (and, she’s responsible for these beautiful images!).
I called DJ Jon Strader in the middle of setup telling him I might need him to stop for a generator, since we were having problems with the circuits in the hotel blowing, and he responded by saying “dude, I already have one in the car. I figured we might need it, didn’t want to take any chances.” He didn’t tell me until the end of the night that his friend had borrowed his generator and to get it back he had to drive 45 minutes out of his way.
Meagen from Maine Seasons Events was delivering farm tables when she heard me on the phone calling every possible rental company in the area to see if they had generators available for us to rent. When I finally found a spot, she literally refused to allow me to go get them myself – she drove 20 minutes each way to pick them up for me with no questions asked.
Caroline from Wildfolk added product to the couple’s order so things didn’t feel sparse, since the landscape for the floral moments had changed so drastically.
The staff at The The Hotel Portsmouth went above and beyond in every single aspect of the weekend, but especially on the wedding day, when they arranged with the church next door for us to be able to use the parking lot there, since we had to clear the parking lot at Hotel Portsmouth to put up the tent.
The folks at Exeter Events & Tents, who didn’t bat an eye when Nick and I visited their showroom 9 days before the wedding and told them we needed to place an order for a wedding for over 100 guests, including tent and dance floor, lighting, chairs, tables, glassware, china, silverware, barware – all items that were included in the restaurant rental and therefore rentals were never even a thing during all of the planning. And we asked them where we should get ice and they hooked us up with a local company who, without us asking, offered to donate the ice because, in the owner’s words, it was “the least he could do.”
Finally, the folks at Louie’s – who were dealing with the reality that their beloved restaurant, which they had recently renovated and hand selected each and every design detail and piece of decor – was essentially gone – showed up on the day of the wedding, working out of a conference room “kitchen” (for prep) and a parking lot “kitchen” (for execution), ready to work and with smiles on their faces. They had us laughing, they had the guests feeling comfortable and taken care of, and, most importantly, they somehow executed some bomb ass food and provided service that was absolutely on point while keeping those smiles on their faces all night long.
What I remember most from this experience, though, is actually not how crazy it was to get us in the position to have the wedding, and not even the fact that it happened and it was, by all accounts, an awesome wedding. When I think back, what still sticks out to me about it is the way the couple worked together, supported each other, and acted as a true team throughout the 19 days.
They considered each other in each decision we made; they took time to consult one another on decisions even though they had to be made swiftly; and – most importantly – they showed up to their wedding weekend and embraced it wholeheartedly. It didn’t matter that their dream of a restaurant wedding literally went up in smoke. It didn’t matter that their ceremony – once planned to happen in front of a floor-to-ceiling window with industrial detail and a beautiful floral installation – happened on the stairs in the lobby of The Hotel Portsmouth. It didn’t matter that instead of eating dinner in a cozy, dimly lit restaurant filled with candlelight, they ate in the open air, under a tent in broad daylight. It mattered that they were there, being lifted up by all those who love them, as they took the most important step in their lives, together.
See below for more of our favorite images from this day!