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Crafting a sweet life together

Their outdoor ceremony combined traditions from their Italian American and Persian cultures.

AnnaLisa's and Amir's mothers, alongside cousins and aunts, hold a cloth over their heads during the ceremony.
AnnaLisa's and Amir's mothers, alongside cousins and aunts, hold a cloth over their heads during the ceremony.Read moreBrittney Raine Photography

AnnaLisa Pedano & Amir Eghbali-Afshar

Sept. 18, 2021, in West Cape May, N.J.

Hello there

Amir had only gone out that December 2015 Monday night because his friend, Julia, wasn’t ready to be alone with the guy she had just met. His night of third-wheeling got more interesting when he saw a beautiful woman with an arm covered in tattoos, but when he tried to say hello, she walked away.

AnnaLisa was completely unaware of Amir’s greeting, but after midnight, she approached a handsome guy carrying a drink he clearly had no intention of drinking, and that guy was Amir.

“What are you doing with that shot?” she asked. “My friends bought it for me, but I’ve had too much to drink already and I don’t know what to do with it,” Amir replied. AnnaLisa threw back the shot. Amir bought her a mixed drink, but just as they sat down to talk the bar lights came up. They talked until the barkeep said, “Everybody out.” Then Amir asked what could have been his last question: “Do you want to come home with me?”

“Yeah,” said AnnaLisa, to his surprise.

The next morning, AnnaLisa woke to the sound of drums, the sight of a shirtless Amir playing them, and the realization that years before, Amir had been the drummer in Verona, a band whose shows she and her emo friends would catch at the bowling alley, skating rink, or at Hot Topic in the mall.

She accepted his breakfast invitation. As they walked up the basement stairs of the Mantua, Gloucester County, home, Amir asked if she’d like to meet his parents.

AnnaLisa considered her smudged makeup and the shoes she carried to save her blistered feet. “You have got to be kidding me,” she exclaimed.

“You kind of have to,” said Amir. “The only way out of the house is up the basement stairs and through the living room.”

It was not the awkward encounter AnnaLisa feared. “Oh my goodness, you’re beautiful,” Amir’s mother, Fareba, told her. “You’re Italian,” added his father, Ali, with the same enthusiasm. “We love Italians!”

They were at a diner when Kailyn, the friend AnnaLisa had been at the bar with the night before, walked in. “Amir bought breakfast for us both and said he wanted to take me out on a real date, but I was convinced he was never going to call me,” she said. Two days later, AnnaLisa, her mother, and Kailyn were in their pajamas baking cookies at the Pedanos’ Woodbury home when Amir called. “I’m coming to pick you up for dinner,” he told her. Nancy — AnnaLisa’s mother — and Kailyn excitedly helped her pick something to wear and fix her hair and makeup. “My mom and my best friend made cookies without me,” she said.

AnnaLisa and Amir have been together ever since. Two months after that date, Amir’s parents left for an extended visit to Iran, where he was born, and she joined him at their house. In 2017, the couple moved to an apartment in Pitman, where they still live with Chihuahuas Bia Rose and Gypsy Rosalie.

“AnnaLisa is a very free-spirited, freehearted person,” Amir said. “She is the complete opposite of me — a business-oriented, on-schedule, anxious person. She is always the calm in the storm; she’s really goofy, and she’s gorgeous like a rock star.”

“We are complete weirdos, and I can just be my complete self around him,” said AnnaLisa of Amir. “He will always tell you the truth. He makes me want to be a better person, he is extremely attractive, and he has a good heart.”

AnnaLisa, now 27, was working as a hairstylist, and Amir, now 28, was a bartender when they met. Neither felt they had found the right career. “When one of us had a dream, the other would support them all the way,” she said. Amir attended business school at Rowan University and is now a real estate agent with the Val Nunnenkamp Team in Marlton. AnnaLisa studied massage and then yoga. She owns Dharma Yoga in Mullica Hill.

The engagement

As their four-year dating anniversary approached, Amir asked his parents and AnnaLisa’s for their blessing and some logistical assistance. The couple decided — or so AnnaLisa thought — to keep their celebration simple: dinner and reminiscing at a restaurant down the street, then a quick stop at Amir’s parents to see a cousin he said was visiting from Iran. After they ate, and Amir persuaded AnnaLisa to wrap up a long conversation about Chihuahuas with a woman at the next table, they drove to Mantua and Amir led her down the same basement stairs he had on the night they met, to what is now his parents’ family room.

“Surprise!” yelled their parents, siblings, and closest friends. AnnaLisa was first touched that so many people would gather for their dating anniversary, then puzzled at why they all kept standing there, looking at them. “Are you good, Birdie?” asked Amir, using her family nickname. She looked at him. He knelt. She got it.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

AnnaLisa’s father, Ricky, had asked Amir to follow his South Philadelphia Italian tradition and hold up the ring for all to see, so Amir did so before putting it on AnnaLisa’s finger.

It was so them

Amir and AnnaLisa married Sept. 18 at Willow Creek Winery in West Cape May.

Their outdoor ceremony combined traditions from their Italian American and Persian cultures. After the bride and her father — and the couple’s 20-member bridal party — walked down the aisle, officiant Crystal Harden led them in their vows and a handfasting ceremony. AnnaLisa’s sister, Chelsea, read a poem, and then the couple walked to the far side of their sofreh aghd, or wedding table. The Quran was open in front of them and a mirror was in place to reflect back to them all the things they were about to say to each other.

Amir’s sister, Ghazal, read a poem in Farsi while AnnaLisa’s mother and women from both families held a scarf over the couple’s heads. Amir’s mother rubbed two sugar canes above them to sweeten their marriage. The scarf was then placed on their chairs as each of them dipped their fingers in goblets of honey, crossed their arms, and fed it to each other, again to bring sweetness to their life together.

The newlyweds were so excited they practically ran back up the aisle to AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”

At the reception for 250, the couple danced to Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and served their guests a lemonade and whiskey signature drink. There was much food, drink, and dessert — including cream puffs and cannoli from Termini Brothers and ice cream sandwiches from Peace Pies in Cape May. Guests danced to a mix of Persian music and alternative rock. The groom took the emcees mic and was hype man for the last hour, to the delight of the guests. Everyone was invited to the Carney’s after-party, which wound up about 4 a.m. Yet, many still met the couple for brunch the next morning.

Amir and AnnaLisa spent the weeks before and after their wedding in Cape May, then two more weeks in Italy.

“It was a whole month of celebration,” said Amir.

In 2022, they hope to travel to Istanbul, grow the yoga studio and real estate business, and buy a home for themselves.