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Quest for coffee stirs up romance; DONNA MARINO AND ANDREW SONNET


It all started with a cup of coffee.

In 1997, Andrew Sonnet was new to the Baltimore area. A consultant for Larson-Juhl, a national frame and artwork supplier, Andrew was determined to make a life here. And to find a place that served a good cup of coffee.

Though Andrew was living in Columbia at the time, his quest for java took him all the way to Canton. There, at the Needful Things coffee shop, he found a drink that met his approval -- and a place where he felt at home.

On June 22, 1997 -- the date is etched indelibly in his memory, he says -- Andrew went to the shop for breakfast. He was sitting and reading the Sunday newspaper when one of the waitresses noticed him.

Donna Marino -- who is actually a physical therapist by trade -- was filling in at Needful Things for a regular staffer who wanted the day off. (Needful Things' owner, Debbie Brooks, is one of Donna's closest friends.)

Donna asked "Deb" about the cute guy at the table by the stairs and before she knew it, Deb was sitting at Andrew's table asking if he was seeing anyone. Mortified, Donna walked over, sat down and admitted that Deb was asking on her behalf. Thanks to witty repartee during breakfast -- not to mention the best service he'd ever had -- Andrew asked for Donna's phone number as he left.

The couple's first date the following weekend was a six-hour walk around Baltimore's east side, where they visited every landmark from Canton to Little Italy (where Donna lives in a row home she renovated).

Soon they were spending every weekend -- and many weekdays -- together. And though love had proved fleeting for both of them in the past, they realized almost immediately that this was the real thing. "I knew it the first time I saw Donna smile and our eyes met at the coffee shop," Andrew says with a grin.

As for Donna, she found herself breaking a pact they'd made early on in the relationship: that neither would mention love until more time had passed. "I used to tell him I loved him, but then I'd take it back," Donna says with a laugh.

By March 1998, Andrew decided he'd had enough of hiding from their true feelings. On their shared birthday -- March 24 -- he proposed in an elaborate scheme that played on Donna's childhood nickname, Princess, and ended with his presentation to her of a princess-cut diamond engagement ring.

They originally had planned to wed in the year 2000, but found that they just couldn't hold off. And so on this past New Year's Eve, Andrew and Donna, both 32, were married at the cozy Canton coffee shop where they met. The tables and chairs were cleared away and the shop was decorated with fresh flowers, greenery and twinkling white lights.

One hundred guests from six states crowded in, some seated, many standing. Among those present were Donna's parents, Diane and Richard Marino of Moriches, N.Y.; Andrew's parents, Theresa and Martin Sonnet of Cresco, Pa., and Donna's grandparents, Anna and Howard Ratto of West Islip, N.Y. Andrew's brother Matthew was best man.

Escorted by her father, Donna walked down a narrow aisle to where Andrew stood waiting, a dashing figure in black tie and tails. Donna's brother Ken did a reading. And a friend of Andrew's read a sonnet Andrew had written especially for the occasion. As they listened, many of the guests dabbed tears from their eyes.

Standing in the corner bay window overlooking O'Donnell Square, the couple recited vows they had written themselves. And as New Year's revelers passed outside -- often tarrying to peek at the activity inside -- the Rev. Joe Bochenek pronounced Andrew and Donna husband and wife.

The couple left the coffee shop amid shouts of congratulation. The path to their reception at a restaurant a few doors down was lighted by luminarias on the sidewalk and by the sparklers carried by their guests.

And at the stroke of midnight, Donna and Andrew welcomed 1999 with a kiss as the Inner Harbor fireworks show illuminated the sky over Baltimore.

Pub Date: 01/10/99

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