This Magic Moment
A Cape couple’s love for their community and each other kept their seaside wedding bright and breezy despite pandemic challenges.
Jen Villa just naturally has the kind of star power that promises a wedding day like no other. The Hyannis resident’s big, warm-hearted personality and dark vivid beauty light up any room she’s in. As her husband, Blane Toedt, vowed to her during their September 20th, 2020 Cape Cod wedding day, “You’re always the brightest star in the room, wherever you are.”
As co-owner with Toedt of The West End, a Hyannis restaurant she helped transform into a must-go dining favorite in 2017, Villa is well-known in the mid-Cape’s business and arts communities as a young mover and a shaker. She has also received all kinds of kudos as the creator, along with close friend Amanda Converse, of Love Live Local, an organization that is dedicated to community advocacy and the importance of shopping local with events and festivals, the publishing of annual publications, and the sharing of digital communications.
Villa, who has lived on the Cape full-time since 2009 and who grew up summering at her family’s cottage on Hyannis’s Sixth Avenue, also ran The Little Beach Gallery for a decade, a showcase for the work of local artists and craftspeople. Oh, and then there’s her popular, cold pressed juice line, The Local Juice, which is sold in Hyannis’s The Local Juice Bar and Pantry, along with organic smoothies, botanicals, and locally sourced pantry items. These creative, resourceful entrepreneurs have dived deep into their Cape Cod community, even when unforeseen circumstances have threatened to sometimes swamp their dreams.
Of course, Villa hoped to have a splendid wedding—the kind that would stand out in peoples’ memories, a pull-out-the-stops celebration with hundreds of guests, truly unique food perfectly prepared, a huge tent, and a band playing dancing hits all night long. And of course, since both are lovers of the ocean, a picturesque beach location was a must.
Following a romantic proposal on the Cape beach where Villa played as a child with her best friend and lover bended on one knee in the sand—a gorgeous diamond from his mother’s wedding ring hand-crafted and set in rose gold by DePrisco of Osterville and Boston sparkling in the Cape sunlight—her wedding fantasies seemed easily at hand. And then the Covid pandemic hit, shaking not only the couple’s plans for the future success of The West End, but upending their wedding plans as well.
Sitting in the serene garden room at The West End recently, it is obvious that both have weathered the Covid storm with the kind of relaxed, yet positive, forward-thinking confidence they are known for by their legions of friends and acquaintances. Toedt, who has years of experience as the former food and beverage manager of Mashpee’s Willowbend Country Club, agrees with Villa when she says that in many ways Covid helped them see what really matters about getting married.
“We finally realized that the wedding day should just be about the two of us, about Blane and me,” she says. “It simplified things really and made it so we could focus on each other, on our marriage, because we didn’t have to worry about planning and running this huge event. We are both so into being great hosts all the time since we are in the hospitality industry and if we had had the huge wedding of my dreams with 200 people—a big showstopper event— we would have gone crazy trying to make everything perfect.” Or as Toedt says simply, “It just made it all so much easier—there was no fluff in our wedding.”
One nurturing constant for the couple has been their love of the beach and the ocean. During the Covid epidemic, daily walks along Craigville Beach near their cottage home helped both get through the stresses of trying to run a big restaurant at the site of Hyannis’s former The Paddock with a daunting bottom line that was affected dramatically by the virus outbreak.
“Our sales were down 75% in 2020,” says Villa. “It was pretty devastating. We just kept focusing on working hard, staying healthy, keeping our loved ones alive. We had just found love and we didn’t want the world to explode! I was so worried about my parents in South Carolina, constantly trying to figure out how to make the business work. Everything just felt shaky and on pause.”
With drastically reduced staff at the restaurant, the couple served take-out and tried to keep upbeat. “We tried to stay really focused, to do what we could to be mindful for our families and our community, but we really needed those walks along the beach to get through. The walks saved us,” she says, noting that they often passed The Beach Club in Centerville on daily treks by the water.
“We knew from the beginning that if we could, we wanted to have our wedding at The Beach Club,” says Villa. “It is such a beautiful place. We just knew it would be the perfect venue.” Founded in 1927, The Beach Club has long been a favorite for seaside weddings with old-fashioned New England charm and a huge deck offering unparalleled Nantucket Sound views.
“We never even considered anywhere else,” Villa says, noting that she was in constant contact with the club’s staff about Covid restrictions right up to the day of the wedding. “We knew we could only have 50 people and that everything had to be outside.”
Since the rise and fall of the Covid virus made a definite date uncertain, emails were sent to the couple’s carefully selected guest list—just two weeks before the wedding day. “I don’t know if it was just instinct, or what, but I knew I shouldn’t send ‘Save the Date’ cards way ahead,” says Villa. “We had to make some really hard choices who to invite.”
For Toedt, who has a large family, the choice of who to invite was equally painful. “My Dad has a huge family and we couldn’t invite one uncle and not another, or leave any cousins out—so we just didn’t invite any,” he says, noting that several of his few invited close friends were able to fly in from other parts of the country—after getting tested for Covid.
Still the limited guest list made it possible for the couple to splurge in other areas. “I really wanted gorgeous flowers and we were able to have that with the beautiful flowers provided by Flora Chella Design, grown locally by Blue Lobster Flower Farm,” says Villa, noting that she loves dahlias, which were combined with abundant masses of wild flowers and ferns. “The flowers were just dreamy,” she says of the garlands wound around a specially made arch created by True North Rentals for the ceremony, cascading down the reception tables set with vintage china, festooned around The Beach Club’s doors, and in the bride’s gorgeous bouquet.
Since the reception had to be on The Beach Club’s deck, a tent needed to be installed. Villa contacted West Wareham’s Sperry Tent, long recognized by Cape and Island brides for offering an array of beautiful customized tents constructed by skilled craftsmen. “Since they couldn’t drill into the club’s deck, Sperry built—right on site on The Beach Club’s deck— this amazing tent built out of wood with a clear ceiling. It was just magical,” she says.
Toedt—a true foodie with a deep knowledge of fine food and wine—chose Smoke and Pickles of Westport, MA to create the couple’s wedding feast. “I worked at a restaurant for years that was right across the street from Smoke and Pickles,” he explains. “All day long I would smell the delicious food they were preparing for their catering business. They cook everything on grills and in huge smokers offering fresh, locally sourced fish and vegetables from the many farms around Westport. You can just count on their food being super-fresh and delicious. The whole striped bass they served us at the wedding was my favorite, cooked really simply, but perfectly with olive oil and sea salt.”
The long-awaited September Sunday for the couple’s wedding finally arrived with bright sunny skies. As she put on her custom-designed, hand-sewn, wedding gown from Vintage in Vogue of Orleans and fastened her long tulle veil to her hair with dahlias and other fresh flowers, Villa knew that she and Toedt had done everything they could to make this day special—and safe for themselves, their families and guests.
“We wanted so much to be married, but right to the end we had to be pillars for each other,” she says. “The truth is that the challenges of Covid were hard and there were some moments when I would be in tears at the kitchen table saying to my Mom, ‘Is it worth putting my family at risk to have this wedding?’ But my Mom was my rock. She believed that we should go forward, that we would be careful, and everyone would be safe. And she was right!”
Traveling to The Beach Club in the couple’s vintage Jeep Wagoneer with her Dad by her side, Villa says she felt completely certain that she was doing the right thing, a belief shared by her Dad. “My Dad was so great then—and when he made a beautiful toast later,” she says. “He took every minute of the day so seriously because he loves me so much. Even though he was marrying off his little girl, I know he was happy to see me in such a healthy, positive relationship, where I can still be myself 100 percent.”
Standing with her Dad at her side on The Beach Club deck, Villa’s hard fought dream became real when she looked out over the beach to those 50 very special guests seated on wooden benches and saw her love, standing firm and strong before the ocean horizon with a delighted smile on his face at the sight of his truly glowing bride. The cool fall wind had some wrapped in blankets and the bride’s veil floated like a wave around her, but as the wedding’s very special officiant, Meaghann Kenney, one of Jen’s best friends and co-manager of The West End, says, “We are all warmed in our hearts to be part of this wedding.”
Kenney wrote the entire ceremony, which was deeply personal, humorous and heartfelt. The bride and groom wrote their own vows, which were by turns serious and loving, and funny. Rings were exchanged and then one of Villa’s favorite songs from childhood on—“This Magic Moment” by the Drifters—could be heard above the wind and the waves as the couple danced up the boardwalk toward the stunning tent and a deck full of special touches such as comfortable couches and baskets of new blankets at the ready for guests’ warmth during cocktails and dances.
After a delicious dinner of the groom’s favorite striped bass, perfectly cooked and garnished by an array of vegetables fresh from seaside fields, the close friends and family members shared toasts and a scrumptious wedding cake made by Mashpee Commons’ Washashore Bakery. The tent was warmed by heaters and each guest knew just how lucky they were to be part of an amazing, intimate day centered most of all around the love of a couple seemingly made for each other.
“For six months before our wedding we had hardly hugged anyone else the whole time,” says Villa. “We started out as a very close couple, but that day we really went from being just one alone, to two so together.”
The celebration was done by 9 pm after a sparkler send off for the newlyweds and a relaxed pizza and beer after-party with a close group of family and friends at their home. Finally, husband and wife savored all the magic moments of the day alone by the light of a fire in their cottage fireplace.
But the brightest light of all is that this couple’s love endured the storms of a devastating pandemic. As the bride vowed to her groom while the strong sea wind blew her veil like an unearthly flag above the small community of happy celebrants, “I promise to keep shining my light. . .and basking in yours.”
Susan Dewey is a former associate publisher and editor at Cape Cod Life Publications and the current associate editor of Cape Cod Garden. She lives in Centerville where she spends many magical Cape Cod moments with her family on the beach and in the garden.