How sweet it is!
Three loving couples clinked their forks and renewed their wedding vows at the original Junior’s Cheesecake location on Flatbush Avenue on Valentine’s Day under the watchful eye of restaurant owner Alan Rosen.
The lovebirds were the winners of Junior’s second-annual love story contest: the iconic eatery put out a call for stories that began at — or heavily featured — the eatery and its famous cheesecake.
“Last year, coming out of COVID, we wanted a way to lift people up for the Valentine’s holiday,” Rosen, the third-generation owner of the restaurant, told Brooklyn Paper. “We thought, well, we’ll have this competition where people send us their Junior’s love story, and lots of people put submissions in, and it was just really great.”
They had to do it again this year, Rosen said. Around 1,000 couples submitted their stories, and Rosen and his team huddled together and pored over each of them, then voted on their favorites. In the end, three couples came out on top: Loretta and Tim Grimes of Ann Arbor, Michigan; Katharine Nedder and Kylie Kelder of Manhattan; and Larry and Mary Brady from Hamburg, NJ.
They were awarded the opportunity to renew their vows at the restaurant that means so much to them, plus a sort of honeymoon: a few nights at a Manhattan hotel, tickets to a Broadway show, and a voucher to eat together at Junior’s.
On Tuesday morning, Junior’s staffers set up a giant heart-shaped balloon arch and scattered rose petals on the floor. Rosen, who got ordained as a minister last year, donned a white and gold stole and prepared his remarks.
As he prepared for the ceremony, dressed in a suit with a white flower pinned to his lapel, Tim Grimes didn’t feel any of the nervousness associated with his wedding 43 years ago.
“My nerves are fine,” he said, holding up his hand to prove it.
Tim and Loretta met in an LIU-Brooklyn dormitory right across the street from the restaurant way back in 1979, where they were both studying theater. They went to Junior’s for their first date – and it’s always held a special place in their hearts.
“We were engaged on Valentine’s Day,” he said. “We met in September 1979, engaged the following February.”
After a few years in New York, the pair relocated to Ann Arbor permanently, where they had two kids and eventually opened their own theater company. They come back to the city each February to see Broadway shows and eat at Junior’s to celebrate the anniversary of their engagement, Tim said. In fact, the vow renewal was scheduled just a week before their regular visit.
“It is our favorite place, it’s the memory that we have of being in the neighborhood when we first came here,” he said. “We always visit this neighborhood when we come back, and we love the Junior’s in Times Square. We couldn’t come during COVID, but we would order Junior’s cheesecake — we did that on Christmas and birthdays and things like that.”
While the other two couples were renewing decades-old vows, Katharine and Kylie’s wedding is still fresh in their minds: they got married only five months ago, after about three years together.
Though they worked at the same company and knew the same people, it took quite a white for the couple to finally meet, Katharine said. When Kylie saw a photo of Katharine posted to a mutual friend’s Instagram page, she thought she was cute – and commented as much under the photo. For months afterwards, it was a running joke between their friends: “Oh, I have to meet the Instagram girl, you have to set me up with the Instagram girl,” Katharine said. Seven months later, friends set them up on what turned out to be a four-hour-long blind date, and the rest was history.
“[Junior’s] has always been one of my favorite places on Earth,” Kylie said. “I would go there when I was sad, or when I was happy, or when I was celebrating something. And she’s never really been a big sweet-tooth person, so I would drag her to Junior’s and we would share a piece of cheesecake.”
On one of those Junior’s visits, just two months into their relationship, a man approached Katharine and Kylie as they ate at the bar and complimented their relationship. They were very sweet and loving together, he told them, and they reminded him of he and his husband.
“We got to talking, and he starts giving us marital advice,” Katharine recalled. “We’re just sitting there, like ‘OK!’ and in the back of our minds, we’re like ‘OK, this is really cool, this is totally a sign that we’re going to get married.’ We talk about him all the time, and we never got his name. Junior’s became even more special to us for that reason.”
They ordered a Junior’s cheesecake for their wedding – and now, as part of their contest package, they’ll get a free anniversary cheesecake every year for life. The renewal, though unusual for newlyweds, plenty meaningful.
“The first wedding — I keep calling it the first wedding – our wedding was very hectic, and you’re making sure everyone is taken care of, and this time is just for us,” Kylie said. “You just get to kind of do it again, and have two wedding anniversaries.”
Katharine and Kylie both wore wedding dresses at their first wedding, and were excited to don suits for the Junior’s renewal. The mini-honeymoon was even more special, the couple said, because they had to hide their identity as a newly-married queer couple on their real honeymoon in Italy last year.
As Rosen completed each ceremony, he wished the couples well.
“Because I know that love is an essential ingredient to both making a happy marriage and a great cheesecake, I now pronounce your wedding vows renewed, and I wish you many years of love, happiness, peace, and prosperity,” he said. “You may now kiss…and share a bite of cheesecake!” in