Did you ever go to Nells on a Wednesday night to dance to salsa?
17 years and 40 days ago, Calle Ocho on the Upper West Side was really in a rhythm.
We were constantly packed and I was so excited to be a part of the restaurant.
We literally timed the opening on the heels of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martins explosion onto the scene.
There was this young woman, who was moonlighting as a cocktail waitress. By day, she was working in a successful gallery in Soho and at night she handled a packed lounge, with up to 50 people.
I never saw her sweat. She was always in control and always had a beautiful smile.
Her name was Carolyn Pena and I definitely wanted to date her.
We would make small talk from time to time , but she was always busy holding down her station.
One Monday night I asked her what she was doing on Wednesday and she said that she was going to Nells with some friends to dance to Salsa. “I responded, wow, so am i. Hope to see you there!”
When Wednesday came, I was so excited. I went to have dinner by myself in Chelsea and then around 8pm, I started to walk to Nells. I bumped into my old friend Steven Kalt, who now owns and runs, one of the hottest restaurants in LA, Spartina.
I got to Nells around 8pm, the music was blasting and I literally was the only patron there.
*note- who goes to a club at 8pm, DUH!
I stayed till about 10:30 and never saw Carolyn Pena.
The next morning, I was working at Union Pacific. I accessed our payroll and got Carolyn’s home phone number. (Not really a smart way of getting a girls phone number)
At 6am, I left the following message on her voice mail, “Hi, this is Paul David Zweben, from Main Street Restaurant Partners. I was at Nells last night and you never showed up! If you’d like to speak, please call me at 917.653.**49,or 212.223.8832, or 212.721.**20 or email me at pzweben@ms**group.com.” and then I hung up.
I am sure she listened to the message and said, how did he get my home number and man, this guy is crazy.
She finally called me up and I asked her out and she said she was busy that day. Then I asked for another date and she said she was busy and finally I asked for August 16, 1999 and she said yes.
Our first date started at Butterfield 81, where my dear friend Tom Valenti was the chef.
I remember as we sat at the bar, Carolyn excused herself and as she walked away, Tom said in his raspy voice, Dude and his big beautiful smile of his exploded. He said, Paul, you did good.
After drinks at Butterfield 81 we went to Raos for dinner and the rest is history.
It was the best firing ever. Carolyn attacked her true passion of selling real estate and she never looked back.
Carolyn, thank you for giving me two beautiful children and a warm, loving home.
I know I am not perfect and I know I live in the Dog House on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anyone else.
Happy 17 year dating anniversary!