Western Queens love stories: Locals share their neighborhood meet-cutes, engagements and weddings

Proposal 3 – Rachel O’Brien
Paige Popdan and Alyssa Suhr (Photo by Rachel O’Brien @rachelobriencreative)


It’s no wonder western Queens is overflowing with happy couples: Not only is the area full of romance, from candlelit restaurants to sunset skyline views, but it’s also a great neighborhood to settle down. Each year, BORO Magazine shares some local meet-cutes and love stories. This Valentine’s Day, we found 11 couples who either met, got engaged or tied the knot in western Queens. 

Ashley Cavadas and Jim Panels

Ashley Cavadas and Jim Panels (Photo by Sydney Goodwin)

Astoria residents Ashley Cavadas and Jim Panels each left the Sparrow Tavern after their first date with a feeling that this would be forever. 

I had a really good feeling about Jim after the date and even told my friends right when I got home. I even said that as part of our vows when we got married,” Cavadas said.

Panels also felt the spark: “I remember thinking that Ashley was really cute and kind. I really enjoyed talking to her and was really happy when she agreed to have a second drink.”

In the five years since they connected online and had that first date, the couple built a life together in western Queens. They live near Astoria Park, where they often walk or meet friends for a picnic. That’s why, when they were choosing a venue for an outdoor wedding in September 2020, Astoria Park was a natural choice. They got married in an intimate ceremony with 11 guests.

Cavadas and Panels have each lived in Astoria for almost 10 years, and they both have businesses based out of Long Island City.

Favorite date spots:


Trattoria L’Incontro

Casa Enrique

ICONYC Brewery



Drew Hollenbeck and Brian DeCaluwe 

Drew Hollenbeck and Brian DeCaluwe (Photo by Eileen Meny Photography @EileenMenyPhoto)

In 2009, when Astorian Drew Hollenbeck started his shift waiting tables at Mother Burger in Hell’s Kitchen, he had no idea he would be meeting his future husband Brian DeCaluwe that day. After receiving free fries from Hollenbeck and sharing a lot of laughs during a group hangout, DeCaluwe asked Hollenbeck out on a date from his Razor flip phone. 

“I thought [Brian] was very cute and so I replied ‘Yes!’ immediately. Brian already lived in Astoria at the time but I lived all the way in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn,” Hollenbeck said. 

Three months after they started dating, the couple moved in together. Ten years later, this past July, the duo tied the knot at The Bonnie. 

“Our wedding was, by far, our favorite moment we have shared together in Astoria. The Bonnie helped us create a celebration that was completely unique to us. To be in one of our favorite spaces filled with all of our favorite people made us feel on top of the world and the memories of that day will stay with us forever,” Hollenbeck said. 

Favorite date spots:

The Bonnie




Nino’s AQ


Taryn Martinez and Jimmy Hoehlein

Taryn Martinez and Jimmy Hoehlein (Photo courtesy of Taryn Martinez)

Second time was the charm for LIC couple Taryn Martinz and Jimmy Hoehlein, who officially met in 2004 in a tropical biology college seminar at Brown University. About four years later, they became an item. 

“We met again senior year at a party Jimmy’s friends threw, and that’s when we really connected. When we first met, though, I thought Jimmy was cute. He had shaggy brown hair and seemed cool. His sisters think it’s hilarious that I thought he was cool. He knew a lot about fish, which impressed me. I was more into birds, though,” Martinez said. 

The couple moved to Sunnyside in 2012, and then to LIC in 2015. The lovebirds got engaged at Vesta Trattoria in 2015 and wedded in 2017 in Providence, Rhode Island, in a historic mansion off the Narragansett Bay. Last year, Martinez and Hoehlein had their first child, Conrad. 

“What drew us to LIC was the green space and access to the waterfront. Our dog and baby both love it. We were also lucky enough to win one of the sustainable middle-income housing slots in a building on the East River. [Seeing] the Manhattan skyline from our living room never gets old,” Martinez said. 

Favorite date spots:

Vesta Trattoria

Claret Wine Bar


Hunters Point South Park



Kristen McCarty Chernets and Yuriy Chernets

Kristen McCarty Chernets and Yuriy Chernets (Photo by Taylor Szabo)

After matching on OkCupid in 2017, Kristen McCarty Chernets and Yuriy Chernets had an iconic Astoria first date: They started with drinks at Diamond Dogs, carried on to Passage, strolled to the Wolfhound for some live music and ended the night eating chicken over rice in Athens Square Park at 3 a.m. 

“When I met Kristen, my first impression was that she looked very confident and determined. And she had beautiful blue eyes. At the back of my mind I was also wondering what my last first date would be like. Now I know, and I could not have wished for a better one,” Chernets said.

The Astoria duo got married this past May in their landlord’s backyard. They hosted a few friends in person while their families in Russia, the Ukraine and the U.S. watched over Zoom and Skype. Plus, their cat, Oliver, got to wear a tux. 

“Want an unusual wedding? No worries, 2020 got you covered! [It] was one of the happiest days in my life — bright and sunny and Kristen was simply stunning,” Chernets said. 

Favorite date spots:


Pink Nori

District Saigon

SingleCut Taproom

Socrates Sculpture Park


Karen Bridges and Jay Mehta

Karen Bridges and Jay Mehta (Photo courtesy of Karen Bridges)

Astoria couple Karen Bridges and Jay Mehta met about five years ago through mutual friends at the hotspot Judy & Punch, but they started out as friends before officially dating. 

I’ll just say I was smitten. Karen was lovely, had an infectious laugh and I just felt great being around her,” Mehta said.

Before their first official date in 2017, Bridges and Mehta would meet up for what they call “adventure club” outings, where they walked around Queens exploring new places and scenes like Smiling Hogshead Ranch and the Louis Armstrong House. This is where they introduced each other to some of their favorite shows like “Veep” and “It’s Always Sunny.”

In 2018, the duo got engaged at Via Trenta at the table where they had their first date. They plan to have a backyard Zoom wedding soon in Astoria. 

Favorite date spots:

Judy & Punch

Via Trenta


Jackson Heights for South Indian food

Casa Del Chef


Morgan Smelter and Mike Dellolio

Morgan Smelter and Mike Dellolio (Photo courtesy of Morgan Smelter and Mike Dellolio)

High school sweethearts Morgan Smelter and Mike Dellolio started their relationship in 2010 after meeting in Spanish class. Ten years later, they got engaged under the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria Park. 

“Mike was a bit fidgety that day, asking me to finish work a bit early so we could catch sunset at the park — he’s not a romantic, so this had me on high alert. Once we left the apartment, and I didn’t think he had a ring box in his pocket, I didn’t think it was going to happen. As we walked along the river through the park and under the Hell Gate, Mike suddenly stopped and almost knocked me down with him. At that point, I couldn’t believe it was happening and was speechless,” Smelter said.

The couple moved to the area in 2017, when Dellolio scored a job as an engineer for the reconstruction of the N/W subway stops in Astoria. They believed that the neighborhood feel and proximity to the job site couldn’t be beat. They hope to get married in June of 2022 in Queens. 

Favorite date spots:

Taverna Kyclades

Jack Jones

Hamido Seafood

Judy & Punch

Souvlaki Lady


Dani and Kelsey Rauber

Dani and Kelsey Rauber (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Rauber)

Sunnyside couple Dani and Kelsey Rauber found each other on OkCupid in 2014. They had their first date at Il Bambino in Astoria, which was near Dani’s apartment at the time. 

“It’s silly, but I immediately knew we’d connect when I saw that Kelsey’s OkCupid username was ‘30Rockefeller,’ an ode to ‘30Rock,’ a favorite show of mine at the time. [I] don’t know if I believe in ‘love at first sight,’ necessarily, but I will say that when I met Kelsey in person on our first date it felt like my heart was smiling. She was so warm and kind, and I felt very comfortable being with her,” Dani said. 

The pair went for a few drinks at Break Bar and Billiards, then parted ways. They reconvened after just a few hours apart and spent a total of 36 hours together. Six months later, the couple moved into an apartment in Sunnyside. They got engaged in 2016.

After nearly four years of being engaged, the couple made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tie the knot in fall 2020.

“In a couple week’s time, we planned an intimate (and COVID-safe) wedding where we exchanged vows in a small ceremony in the back garden of one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Sotto Le Stelle. It was lovely, magical, and filled us with a much-needed bright and hopeful outlook,” Dani said. 

Favorite date spots:

Ida’s Nearabout

Zio Luigi

Sotto Le Stelle

The Skillman

Mad For Chicken


Stephanie Moy Gonzalez and Daniel Gonzalez

Stephanie Moy Gonzalez and Daniel Gonzalez (Photo by Ryan Scott Welsh @ryanscottwelsh)

Astorians Stephanie Moy Gonzalez and Daniel Gonzalez met in 2008 while they both worked at Banana Republic in San Francisco. Coincidentally, Moy Gonzalez found her future husband “infuriating” at first.

“We were both assigned to the cash wrap, but he would constantly disappear to help customers like he was a personal shopper. All of a sudden, I would have a long line of customers forming with Daniel nowhere to be found, but we quickly became friends. It took us a whole year to finally get together at a mutual friend’s party,” Moy Gonzalez said. 

The couple moved to Brooklyn in 2010 and held their 2015 wedding at The Foundry in LIC. Not long after the celebration overlooking the Queensboro Bridge, the Gonzalezes decided to make Astoria their home with their daughter, Grey, in early 2016. 

We scheduled a viewing and immediately fell in love with the neighborhood. It had everything we were looking for: good eats, trendy nightlife, nice shops, an easy work commute. It seemed like a wonderful place to start a family,” Moy Gonzalez said. 

Favorite date spots:

Regal Movie Theater

Museum of the Moving Image



Astoria Park


Ravid Cohen and Carl Michel

Ravid Cohen and Carl Michel (Photo by Emily Gagliano)

Astoria couple Ravid Cohen and Carl Michel got engaged this past summer on a hot, humid day in Astoria Park. Luckily for Michel, it looked like it was going to rain any minute, so he could conveniently hide the ring in his umbrella.

“Our engagement was so special because it was so surprising. In the moment, I couldn’t believe it was truly happening, but after a minute to process the proposal, I was just so grateful and excited to be Carl’s fiancée,” Cohen said.

 Michel surprised Cohen with not only a ring, but balloons and a blanket on the nearby grass. 

“[The] nervousness and excitement did not leave until after I put the ring on her finger, and based off the video I saw of the proposal, it’s safe to say I didn’t make it through all the words I practiced,” Michel said. 

The duo first met in 2017 at the Macy’s in Herald Square where they both worked. They spent two months as coworkers before meeting officially. They finally crossed paths at a work happy hour karaoke night. 

Cohen and Michel have been living in Astoria since 2018 and plan to get married in 2022. 

Favorite date spots:

Pink Nori

Las Catrinas

Nino’s AQ

The Bonnie



Paige Popdan and Alyssa Suhr

Paige Popdan and Alyssa Suhr (Photo by Rachel O’Brien @rachelobriencreative)

It’s not every day you come across a couple that has known each other since pre-school, but Astorians Paige Popdan and Alyssa Suhr made it work. Even though they weren’t immediate friends, they eventually got along and started dating in 2011. 

“Alyssa couldn’t stand me and constantly made fun of me for most of middle school. Luckily, we had a mutual friend between us who brought us together and convinced Alyssa to be nice to me in high school. We remained good friends for years, but didn’t start dating until later on in college,” Popdan said. 

The lovebirds moved to Astoria about six years ago when Popdan started her first job out of college and Suhr was finishing up grad school. In 2019, Suhr popped the question to Popdan on her brother’s rooftop overlooking the RFK bridge. After proposing, Suhr surprised Popdan by getting a bunch of their friends to meet them at The Bonnie.

This past September, the couple had an intimate outdoor wedding on Long Island.

Favorite date spots:

The Bonnie



Chano’s Cantina

Astoria Coffee 


Jessica Terlizzi and Ian Maio

Jessica Terlizzi and Ian Maio (Photo courtesy of Jessica Terlizzi)

Astorians Jessica Terlizzi and Ian Maio met on a dating app in 2019 and bonded over their love for “The League of Their Own.” Before their first date at The Social on 30th Avenue, Ian found himself pacing outside the bar for 10 minutes, nervous and excited to finally meet Terlizzi.

We just grabbed a couple drinks at [The Social’s] little bar area. I could tell from the moment he plopped down on the stool next to me and said ‘Hey!’ with a smile that it was going to be a fun date,” Terlizzi said. They continued the night at Judy & Punch, basking in the glow of their budding relationship. 

Since then, the couple’s relationship has been filled with special moments in Astoria, like sitting on Terlizzi’s rooftop for hours on the Fourth of July, waiting to watch the fireworks while snacking on beer and cheese from ABC Broadway. Currently, the lovebirds share an apartment together off Steinway with their “crazy” Corgi, Gizmo. 

Favorite date spots:

The Gutter LIC

Judy & Punch

Socrates Park


Il Bambino