Jenna Cesolini and Thomas Bahrke considered many options for their upcoming nuptials. Maybe they'd keep it "super-small." Maybe they'd elope. Maybe they'd throw a destination wedding.
On Saturday, Cesolini, 27, and Bahrke, 40, will host family and friends from all over the country at one of Minnesota's most celebrated venues:
The Minnesota State Fair.
To clarify, they're not getting hitched at the fair. But after a small, midmorning ceremony in a St. Paul park gazebo, they'll gather with more than 50 guests at the fair's Heritage Square, then spread out for hours of eating, drinking and music courtesy of, well, courtesy of whichever line they want to stand in.
"I can't think of a more fun wedding reception," said Brienna Schuette, who's been a State Fair spokeswoman for about eight years. She knows of married couples who met at the fair. And she's seen formal wedding receptions held in the Blue Ribbon picnic area.
"But this loose, informal form, where everybody just comes to the fair, is something I don't think I've ever heard of."
A State Fair focus likely didn't surprise anyone who knows the couple. They met when both were servers at Manny's ("the best thing I got from that job," he says) and had their first date at the fair five years ago.
Cesolini liked Bahrke right away, but wanted to avoid the awkwardness common on first dates.
Strolling the fairgrounds with the immediate world took the pressure off.
They ate Pronto Pups and gazed down from the Sky Ride. "It was fun," said Cesolini, who stunned Bahrke when she confessed she'd never been before. Cesolini, a Pilates instructor and freelance fashion stylist, was born in Bemidji but she grew up in Colorado. She returned to Minnesota in her early 20s.
Bahrke, on the other hand, began flipping burgers at the fair for 12 to 13 hours a day as a teenager. He'd ride the bus there, loving the freedom of being in "such a cool place." Plus, he brought in about $3.65 an hour, which paid his car insurance.
After their successful first date, the couple returned a few days later with Cesolini's then 3-year-old daughter, Ava. Every year since, they've celebrated the anniversary of their first date with a date to the fair.
Two years ago, riding the Sky Ride with Cesolini and Ava, Bahrke pulled out two Ring Pops and proposed. Cesolini wasn't totally surprised. "I'd been bugging him to marry me," she said. (An official ring came later.)
The couple mulled over many possible options for a wedding, "but every time we came up with a plan, it wasn't working," Bahrke said.
In June, the light bulb went off. He wanted to have the actual ceremony at the fair, but they couldn't make that work. So they're doing the next best thing.
On Saturday morning, Cesolini and Bahrke will wed in the park surrounded by immediate family. She'll wear an ivory lace wedding dress created for her by Minnesota designer and friend Caroline Hayden, with whom she has worked on photo shoots. "I'll also wear leopard-print heels," she said. "I have to make it me."
Ava, 8, will wear a sea-foam green dress. And while he'd love to be wearing a T-shirt and shorts to battle the expected 90-degree heat, Bahrke will be the guy in the suit. They'll host a mimosa and Bloody Mary brunch at Bacio, then will hand their guests State Fair tickets — and Minnesota-made Ames Farm honey.
"We're keeping it friendly and local," Bahrke said.
After changing into white shorts, they'll head to the Great Minnesota Get-Together around 4 p.m., where they'll be joined by friends. "We've told people to make it their own day, to come and go," Bahrke said. "Keeping together would be like herding cats."
Still, they're encouraging guests to check in on the couple's Facebook page to find out where the newlyweds are located from hour to hour.
Around 10 p.m., they'll regroup for one of the grandest wedding finales ever.
"How many people," Bahrke asked with a grin, "get to end their wedding with fireworks?"