Robert Bonilla was walking down the frozen food section at the Costco in Santa Maria. It was Dec. 21, 2013, days before Christmas and the aisles were crowded with shoppers eagerly stacking their carts full of those gigantic Costco-sized containers of food for their big holiday meals.
He was prepping for a different sort of big meal, gathering all the fixings for a company barbecue. Trekking through the warehouse-like aisles, Robert passed a woman he’d noticed on three separate occasions. He rounded the corner to the seafood section, and there she was again. That time, they locked eyes. It was love at the first sight of frozen shrimp.
Her name was Meredith.
One year later, the couple who met in one of Costco’s frozen food aisles would tie the knot in the very same spot. Their wedding made international headlines because, as it turns out, getting married in Costco, according to Robert, isn’t a common thing.
But then again, neither is meeting the love of your life next to freezers full of bagged seafood.
As Robert recalled it, he saw that Meredith was wearing a slick pair of cowboy boots with six-shooters imprinted onto the back of them. He said that glass-doored aisle was where he finally mustered up the courage to give her a compliment.
“And from around the corner I say, ‘Oh, nice boots!’ I seen her from behind. I didn’t know who she was,” Robert said.
Meredith thanked him for the compliment. Then, Meredith said, the two started comparing their groceries.
“He looked at my cart and goes, ‘What are you doing, feeding a horse?’ And I had a huge bag of carrots and apples I was going to juice. I said, ‘No I’m juicing.’ And so I just said something to him and noticed after passing three times that he had a bunch of food and foil.”
She asked him if he owned a restaurant. He said he was only volunteering for a barbecue and asked if she wanted to help. She tried to avoid the question, but Robert just got straight to it.
“Oh, well, what about your husband?” he said.
“I have no husband,” Meredith replied. And that fateful door opened. Meredith remembered telling Robert she had just moved to Santa Maria from Colorado.
The conversation progressed from “Where are you from?” to “What are you doing for Christmas?” to where they would meet again. According to Robert, that next meeting was in San Luis Obispo for some more shopping. They met for breakfast at the Madonna Inn not too long after. A date to Jocko’s in Nipomo soon followed. Then, they visited each other’s churches, and, of course, they also made several trips to Costco as the couple’s relationship blossomed beyond the aisles of a chance supermarket romance.
A little less than a year after first sight, just before Robert left on a hunting trip with a friend to Colorado, he asked the Santa Maria Costco manager about the possibility of getting married there. That was on Sept. 21, 2014.
“I was like, ‘Hey I’m thinking about asking the girl you’ve been seeing me [with] at Costco … I’ve been thinking about asking her to marry me,” Robert said.
The manager flat out told him that it was not very likely. But after Robert returned from the mountains of Colorado, he checked his phone messages and heard one from the Costco manager, who announced himself as their “wedding coordinator” in the voice message.
After hearing that, Robert said he knew he was in and made plans to propose to Meredith on a Sunday.
On the appointed day, they went into Costco in need of items for a barbecue. The two separated, and Robert went to go pick out the meat, but he and Meredith agreed to rendezvous near the salad aisle. He tried to intercept her path near the frozen shrimp.
“I figured I could get to the shrimp area and put in the shrimp the note, ‘I love you, will you marry me?’” he said.
But she was too quick. She had already passed that part of the aisle, and Robert noticed that she didn’t grab the bag of shrimp he’d attached his note to. Meredith said she remembers Robert telling her to go back and get the right shrimp.
“So I get back over there, and I’m, like, in this cooler, and I look down, and there’s a note that says, ‘Will you marry me?’ Meredith said. “And I turned around, and I said, ‘Yes!’”
But, the question every engaged couple struggles with soon followed: Where were they going to get married? Meredith said Robert told her they could tie the knot right there in Costco if that’s what she wanted. They already had management’s blessing, and she was all for it. She said she’d heard stories about people getting married in warehouse stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, but she never expected that she and Robert would be one of those couples.
“I read those stories before where people have gotten married in different department stores or warehouses,” Meredith said, but Robert said he remembers that Meredith expressed that she always wanted to get married on the beach.
“Everybody can get married on the beach,” he said. “But not everybody can get married in a Costco.”
After the engagement, the couple turned the wedding planning around pretty quickly. Between the end of September and Dec. 21, 2014, that was all they did. They kept everything simple. Meredith ordered her dress online through Amazon.com.
“I didn’t have time to go into a dress shop, and I didn’t want to go through the process,” Meredith said. “I thought if I didn’t like it, I would just return it.”
But she never had to. The dress was a near-perfect fit and only needed a few alterations. Meredith picked out a ring custom-made from a horseshoe nail, took the ring to a jeweler in town, and had them inlay diamonds into white gold that looked like that horseshoe nail ring.
The ring looks as if a blacksmith wrapped a heated nail around a rod, forming it into a circle. The point of the nail comes back around through the head of the nail, and that’s where the diamonds are. But she found out later that she could have gotten her dress and ring from Costco, too.
“You can pretty much plan a whole wedding from Costco,” Meredith said.
It was hard to plan the ceremony around the hustle and bustle of the holidays. It just so happened that Meredith and Robert got married on one of the busiest shopping days of the year—right before Christmas.
The ceremony took place after hours, and there were still customers in the store shopping. Employees were busy restocking the shelves. The aisle where Robert and Meredith met was cluttered with employees driving forklifts, so they held the ceremony in the next aisle over, which turned out to be wider and was still in the frozen section. Meredith was even wearing that same pair of boots with the guns stitched on the back of them.
Because they couldn’t hold the wedding until after the store closed, the Bonillas did things backward, holding the reception and dinner before the ceremony.
The reception was held at the Foxenwood Tennis and Swim Club’s clubhouse in Santa Maria starting at 3 p.m. It was a big Filipino dinner with large hams, sweet breads, pork adobo, lumpias, and several dozen tamales. The multitude of wedding cakes were made at the Madonna Inn. Everybody feasted, and the crowd eventually made its way to Costco later that evening.
Almost 200 well-dressed guests, including curious employees watching from the nearby bakery, saw the couple exchange vows. In true warehouse box-store fashion, Costco supplied wooden pallets, which were stacked on top of each other to create the altar. The store also supplied poinsettias to line the aisle. As the wedding started, everybody closed in on the poinsettias. Both Robert and Meredith were a little nervous at first.
“The whole day was leading up to something,” Meredith said.
The couple exchanged their vows swiftly and promptly left the warehouse. The entire ceremony took less than an hour, according to the Bonillas, who said that the whole thing cost around $3,000.
“It was unique,” Meredith said.
“We never thought it would go as far as it did,” Robert said. “We just wanted to get married.”
The honeymoons—yup, more than one—soon followed. The Bonillas initially went to Disneyland in Anaheim, spending that first honeymoon with family. Then, earlier this year, they took a second honeymoon for themselves and went to Hawaii for a week.
Love, part deux
Having been single for years after getting married earlier in their lives, neither Robert nor Meredith ever thought they’d be getting hitched again. Over the years following his divorce, Robert was always going to Hawaii by himself, and his cousin constantly tried to hook him up with nice, Filipino girls or ask him if he’d brought a girl fishing with him lately.
Meredith turned out to be that girl Robert was searching for. She just seemed to fit in with everybody, Robert said. Three months into dating, Robert said that even his friends seemed to know that she was the one. Robert’s friend Jorge Chavez offered to do the marriage rites, which he eventually did at the Bonillas’ Costco wedding.
“She’s fun, a great companion, and we really haven’t had any arguments,” Robert said. “It almost makes me cry, I’m so happy.”
Contact Staff Writer David Minsky at [email protected].
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PATRICK ANG PHOTOGRAPHY