Picture it. The date is Feb. 18, 2008, and a couple who met on a popular online dating site are preparing for their first date.
She’s in Oconee County near Athens, and he’s in South Carolina. Fearing that he may be crazier than their online interactions led on, she picks a public place close to the highway for them to meet: Zaxby’s restaurant on U.S. 129 in Jefferson.
She was too nervous to eat, so she ordered a sweet tea. He, too, wasn’t very hungry so he ordered a small meal for them to share as they got to know each other better.
“We met on (www.match.com). I knew about that Zaxby’s because my son plays basketball in Cleveland and we’ve stopped there to eat a few times after his games,” said Cyndie Kenimer, a special education teacher in Oconee County.
“I picked a public place because if this guy turned out to be a creep, I wanted there to be a lot of people around. But once we got there we found out we had so much in common. We stayed and talked all night — until they came and told us they were about to close.”
And that was the beginning of their lives together, where they fell in love over a Big Zax Snak.
Fast forward 10 months to December. The couple is on vacation after spending nearly every weekend together and talking on the phone for countless hours.
“We went to Las Vegas for (New Year’s Eve) and it was pretty funny because she kept saying, ‘We’re here, why don’t we just get married,’” said Brad McKee, Kenimer’s online match and a special education teacher in Gwinnett County.
“I kept telling her, ‘No, I don’t want to do it now. I have a plan.’”
Although she didn’t know it at the time, McKee’s plan would bring them full circle to the place where their love affair first started.
After making a call to the restaurant where they met, McKee had secured a public venue to ask for Kenimer’s hand in marriage: the Zaxby’s sign facing U.S. 129.
“I wanted to do something different, but not too corny,” he said. “I thought it would be cool if it could be up on a billboard or something. It’s kinda corny, but kinda cool, too.”
Luckily for McKee, the folks over at Zaxby’s have a soft spot for a romance.
“We haven’t had a request like that one before,” said Sherrie Holcomb, one of the restaurant’s managers. “When he asked us to do it, it seemed kinda odd. But it was romantic, so I agreed.”
Fast forward again to last Wednesday afternoon, when at least 10 tornadoes touched down in Georgia and it rained cats and dogs over most of Northeast Georgia.
“The weather was really bad and I thought, ‘Oh no, she won’t be able to see the sign,’” McKee said. “But then when we got about half a mile from the restaurant it quit raining and the sun came out. It was perfect.”
As they were driving past the sign, which read “Cyndie will you marry me,” Kenimer looked up and noticed something out of the ordinary.
“I was like, ‘My name is on that sign. Why is my name on that sign?’ And then I realized what it said I was so excited that I cried,” she said.
Once they got inside the restaurant, they both realized that the Zaxby’s crew really pulled out all the stops to help make their day special.
McKee had asked that the table where the couple sat on their first date be reserved. The restaurant’s staff also added a vase of flowers and a card for the couple.
“After I got our order — another Big Zax Snak — I set the food down on the table, got down on one knee with the ring and asked her if she definitely wanted to do this,” McKee said.
Of course, Kenimer said “yes.” It’s hard to say “no” to a man with a beautiful ring and a tray of fresh fried chicken, Texas toast and french fries.
Looking back on how she became acquainted with her future husband, it’s easy to see that these two were destined to meet.
“I’ve been divorced for about five years now and I have a daughter in high school and a son in college,” Kenimer said. “I really wasn’t interested in meeting anybody because I was so devoted to being a good mom. But then I noticed that I was always home alone on weekends because they kids were gone so much because they are involved in so many activities.
“A very good friend of mine was single and she said that I should try (www.match.com) for a month, just to check it out. I did, but I was scared to death to actually meet anyone, so I would just exchange e-mails with them. After a month, I let my membership expire.
”About five months after her first foray into online dating, Kenimer’s friend died from cancer. So as a tribute to her friend, she decided to give the Web site another try.
“I said, ‘OK. This time I’m really going to go for it.’ I signed up for a three-month membership that December and I met (McKee) in February,” she said. “We have so much in common and my kids adore him. It’s really just been a good experience all around.”
For the couple with such a nontraditional courtship and subsequent proposal, it’s only fitting that their nuptials follow that same path.
“We’ve both been married before and had the big weddings, so we don’t want to do that again,” Kenimer said. “We’ve been to Las Vegas and we’re thinking about going back again and letting Elvis marry us.”