How They Met 2014

Welcome to our second annual installment of "How They Met," in which we ask couples how they came to be and photograph the results.

Last year, one of the couples we profiled went on to become mayor and first husband of Minneapolis. This year, we talked to the most famous married couple in local TV news, two pairs of restaurateurs, and one of the first gay couples to get legally married here.

We can only hope this year brings as much love to the Twin Cities as the last.


OVER THE PAST six months, Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak have had a lot to celebrate. In August, they threw themselves a legal wedding in their Lake Elmo backyard. In December, they announced a new venture, an upscale pub called Mattie's on Main. And this year, the riverside restaurant they co-own, the Wilde Roast Café, turns 10. Back when they first met, the two had instant chemistry.

Dean: We met at a bar downtown.

Tom: It was 14 years ago, 2000, the Saturday after Valentine's Day. We were at the Eagle in downtown Minneapolis, on Washington.

Dean: We were both out with different friends and neither party knew each other, but Tom and I saw each other from across the room.

Tom: It was actually just odd. I went across the room and held his hand without even talking to him.

Dean: [I thought], "Who is this guy that's trying to hold my hand and I haven't even talked to him yet?" It was a bit odd, but you know, that's how relationships sometimes start. —Olivia LaVecchia


KATE CASANOVA AND CHRIS KOZA are Minneapolis creatives of high renown. Casanova is a visual artist whose oft-magical work — shown in New York and Beijing in addition to countless Twin Cities exhibitions — turns cars and Victorian furniture into gardens of living beings. Koza is the lead singer and songwriting architect of folk-rockers Rogue Valley, and has a solo album planned for later in 2014.

Kate: The first time that we met, Chris and his friend cooked habanero peppers.

Chris: Making fajitas. I was really interested in making an impression, so I was like, "I'm going to buy every kind of pepper that's at the store." It was like six pounds of peppers. Anaheim, banana peppers, habaneros, jalapenos...

Kate: ...and smoked out the whole house. It was in the middle of winter, and nobody could breathe because of the habanero smoke. Literally everybody had to go outside of the house until the smoke cleared.

Chris: I thought it was catastrophic, but I guess they thought it was funny.

Kate: It left an impression.

Chris: I know when I saw Kate I was like, "That looks like a cool artsy girl. I really want to try to get to know her."

Kate: When I saw Chris I was like, "I'm attracted to him, but he's a musician and a painter. I'm done dating artistic guys, because they're all crazy." It didn't take too long to realize that Chris was the definite exception to the rule, and so I changed my mind. I decided that I was not going to date a lumberjack; I was indeed going to date a musician. It was a good decision. We've really grown together, both as a couple and as individual professionals, creative professionals. —Reed Fischer


ON AUGUST 1, 2013, in the lavishly decorated lobby of Minneapolis City Hall, Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke said "I do" at precisely midnight — the moment same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota. They met in the mid-'90s when they both worked for St. Stephen's Human Services.

Margaret: So we knew each other really well as colleagues. Then there came this fateful day when I realized that she had ended a relationship, and I was not in a relationship. So there was this moment. And I thought, "If I don't say something to her — this girl gets snapped up really quickly between relationships." So I did.

Cathy: It did sort of feel like the stars were finally aligning, and once they did align, it was this complete recognition of, "Oh, this is what I'm supposed to be doing." You know, it just felt so good and so right, and to find that person who encompasses so much of what I valued: community and family and art and social justice. We kind of knew right away.

Margaret: It was so great. I had dated a lot of people and had a lot of unhealthy relationships. And I think the fact that I knew Cathy for several years as a co-worker I admired and respected, without having it be a love relationship, but then to have that turn into a love relationship and a life relationship, it really was a great way to get to know the person that you are going to be with for the rest of your life.


Cathy: You know you're in love with somebody when you get really excited about just being together. Whether we're on a family road trip or just going to Menard's, it feels like we're on just one really long fantastic date.... I still love her. I'd marry her a third time. —Andy Mannix


CHRISTOPHER STRAUB AND RONNIE COOPER met almost decade ago on a hot summer day in Loring Park, years before Christopher rocked his fashion expertise on the wildly popular Project Runway. Since then, Christopher and Ronnie, a service engineer, have been together, and they were the first couple in Scott County to file for marriage after it became legal in 2013.

Ronnie: Well, it was on the day the light rail was supposed to open, and so I tried to ride the light rail, but it was full. I ended up going to the park — it was Pride at Loring Park... let's see, so the light rail was full, and I went to the park and then that's where I saw Christopher.

Christopher: I was just there with some friends running around the park during Pride, and then I just came across him... or I saw him, and then just kept walking because I'm not the type of person that would really... I don't approach anybody. That's not my thing at all. I was with a bunch of friends and then I was like, "I gotta go find that guy!" I remember he was wearing a yellow backpack. I separated myself from my friends and ran around looking for this guy with the yellow backpack, and I gave up and went to go watch some friends play volleyball. He just happened to be there, and so [we] made a quick introduction and exchanged phone numbers and then we went out the next night to the Spaghetti Factory?

Ronnie: Classy.

Christopher: You know, for a nice $6 dinner.... [laughs] And then here we are almost 10 years later. We ended up having a commitment ceremony in 2006, and then got legally married August 17, 2013. Right after it was legal. It's kind of an unceremonious meeting. You know, in the park, just sort of happenstance or chance pulling us together. That was it. It was pretty easy. Once I got his number all I wanted to do was talk to him and you know, I've never dated anybody since. Obviously. —Tatiana Craine


THERE'S NO DISPUTE: Frank Vascellaro and Amelia Santaniello are the cutest couple on local television. For almost eight years, they've anchored the WCCO nightly newscasts while juggling raising three children in Minneapolis. In 1996, they were working for competing stations. Amelia was involved in a long-distance relationship, though a friend urged her to meet Frank at a media charity event.

Amelia: It was the first time I'd laid eyes on him in person, and let me tell you: When you walked in, I was like, "Wow!"

Frank: That is so hot.

Amelia: But the big thing was when I started talking to you, you turned out to be a really nice guy.

Frank: Being the brave soul that I am, I was with a buddy of mine, J.R. Mahon — red-haired, short, Irish New Yorker who acted every bit of a red-haired, short, Irish New Yorker. He talked to Amelia and came back with a little reconnaissance report and said, "I think she seems like a good person."

Amelia: I love J.R. I can't remember what he was saying, but I was like, "Who is this guy?"

Frank: My first reaction was, "Wow! She's really pretty." And the great thing about our conversation, I remember, it was 5 percent about TV and 95 percent about our families and life. I was so excited after that night. I didn't know about the long-distance boyfriend. That actually didn't come up in the initial conversation.

Amelia: I broke it off with him, because I knew it wasn't going to work out. In all my years of dating, I didn't want to get married or anything, but after that night I was like, "I think [Frank] is the one."

Frank: It was a brilliant decision. —Jesse Marx


TAWNYA "SWEETPEA" KONOBECK is a burlesque performer, and also works as a personal trainer and lifestyle coach. Denise "Seven" Bailey is a welding instructor and metal fabricator who does custom art installations. The two were engaged last year during the Pride Parade when Seven proposed on the float for Grown and Sexy, one of Sweetpea's productions.


Sweetpea: We met at the Town House Bar in St. Paul. It was May the 7th of 2011. I was there doing a drag show, in a show with all men dressed as women. I was the only biological woman.

Seven: You were extra draggy.

Sweetpea: I was super draggy that night. So in waiting to go on, I was standing in this little holding area and I noticed this gorgeous person playing pool with some friends of hers. When I first noticed her, I thought she was a he, because she was looking very androgynous that night.

Seven: I had noticed Pea because it was this little drag queen in my mind that had been all over the Town House and I would notice that I would look over my shoulder and she'd be looking my way and smiling.

Sweetpea: It wasn't until she turned sideways and I saw a side profile and noticed that she actually had breasts that I about fell over because I realized that it was a woman. I think I actually exclaimed out loud, and some friends were standing next to me. Then as soon as I walked away to probably go change costumes, the little shits went up and approached Seven.

Seven: So I said eff it. I walked up to her and introduced myself. It was just a blur at that point; she lit up and smiled and I smiled back. I offered to buy her a drink and all that [and] we sat for a second, but she had to do the cast call. So she got up, did the cast call, took a bow, and then she had to go downstairs.

Sweetpea: I couldn't handle talking to her so closely when I was so geeked out.

Seven: And in full drag. —Jeff Gage


RACHEL EGGERT — better known by her popular Twitter handle, @MNCapitolGirl — is engaged to marry Todd Dombrock on June 14, two years and one day after their first date. Dombrock, who works at Cub Foods, discovered Eggert just before New Year's in 2011, when he saw her on WCCO news, and decided to send her a message on Facebook. After communicating online for six months, they met at the Mall of America. Eggert is deaf, and Dombrock didn't speak sign language at the time, so communication was a challenge.

Rachel: He saw me on TV. I was on WCCO, and there was a story, and he saw me. And then he looked me up on Facebook. He was like, "Oh, she's a cute girl, and I'd like to meet her, and I'm going to add her on Facebook."

Todd: I thought she looked kinda cute, so I sent an invite to her to see if she wanted to be friends. It took a while until we actually met.

Rachel: We went to the Mall of America. I was kind of nervous because we met online and you never know. I thought he looked nice, but I was a little awkward, you know, I wasn't sure. And he was awkward, too, because he knew I was deaf, and he wasn't sure how to communicate.

Todd: She had a notebook along and she wrote down what she was saying to me. That made it a little easier. Then I would write down what I was saying to her. That was an easy way to communicate, because I didn't know sign language at that time. I'm slowly learning sign language right now. —Andy Mannix


KYRRA AND JEROME RANKINE work together at Teach for America, where she does talent placement and community engagement and he works in communications. Jerome is also a musician and freelance sound designer. They met while attending Northwestern University in Illinois.

Jerome: At Northwestern every year they have a charity philanthropic event called Dance Marathon. There's a whole bunch of ancillary events that happen, and one of those events was a date auction. My fraternity at the time nominated me as the person to represent us.

Kyrra: He was one of their sexy eligible bachelors. I think he forgot to put that in.

Jerome: I wasn't going to throw that in myself, but if you want to be accurate, yes, I was extremely eligible, I was extremely bachelor. I was the second person to go for this date auction. Going up on stage at like 9 p.m. was probably not the best-case scenario for me to raise a lot of money. But I do remember trying really hard — I think I did like a freestyle rap onstage.

Kyrra: In college Jerome was in a rap group — the only rap group at Northwestern probably ever. They were called the Ill Logic.


Jerome: The emcee was like, "How low can we start? 10 dollars? How about a dollar? How about 50 cents?" He kept lowering the number.

Kyrra: My hand just sort of involuntarily shot up into the air. And it kept doing that. I was like, "Oh no, what's happening?" It got up to 40 dollars and, I'm not even joking, I didn't have 40 dollars. I had to borrow from my friend.

Jerome: For context, the person after me had a package that included Bulls tickets, and this is 1999 when the Bulls were winning like everything. He went for like $150.

Kyra: I felt stupid. I figured this guy would never call me. Then we ran into each other a few weeks later at an event. He called my name out and said, "I think you owe me a date!" He was wearing a toga, because naturally.

Jerome: It was college.... —Jeff Gage


VENUS DEMARS is a performance artist and musician best known for leading the dark-glam band All the Pretty Horses. Lynette Reini-Grandell is a poet and English professor. They were only middle-schoolers in Duluth when they were paired to create a commercial for an insect repellent called "Bug-B-Gone."

Lynette: I played the bug. I crawled across the ground, and he had to spray me until I dramatically died. I found that very attractive for some reason.

Venus: I liked her eyes. But I was also untangling my being transgender. I still didn't understand who I was. So even though I was attracted to Lynette, I wasn't getting involved with anybody.

Lynette: I went to college in Northfield. Venus had a cousin down there. We would see each other in the summers.

Venus: I thought we were just being friends, but I was sending out all the wrong signals. We broke up before we started dating, and Lynette went back to her dorm room and cried and broke a glass.

Lynette: After college, I had the idea that this group of friends, since we were all in the arts, really needed a free weekly newspaper because they didn't have one in Duluth. Then we just started hanging out again.

Venus: We sat and talked for like an hour, and I explained how she was really having to take on a lot of issues if she wanted us to have a relationship.

Lynette: You wanted to be friends, and you were concerned that if we dated we would lose that. In the end we decided to try. Then a couple months later, he asked me to marry him.

Venus: Lynette really has to take the credit for it. I don't know if anybody else would have put up with me.

Lynette: No. Nobody would have.

Venus: When I think about it, it was really strange. Like two planets that kept passing each other in orbit. I transitioned during that time. It was not an easy ride, but I think what we did was learn how to survive and find the things that we'd seen in each other way back then. —Jesse Marx


THE PAST TWO YEARS have been a whirlwind for Thomas Kim and Kat Melgaard. They moved to the Twin Cities from Los Angeles, started a successful Midtown Global Market stall (the Left Handed Cook), parlayed that into opening a Korean pub (the Rabbit Hole), had a baby, and got married. But the only thing Thomas (then a chef for a Los Angeles hotel restaurant) knew about Kat (a student at UCLA) when they met for their first date four years ago was that she fit his parameters.

Thomas: I searched for "within 5 miles," "tattooed," and "Korean." I was like, there's no way I'm going to find anybody with that criteria. But she was one of the first profiles I came across.

Kat: He did message me first by the way. I did a three-day free trial, and in three days I met my husband.

Thomas: The first date was one of those awkward, don't-know-what-to-expect kind of things. I think the first thing she said to me was, "Oh, you're kind of cute." I was like, "Thank you, I think?"

Kat: The first thing he said to me when we got out of the car was, "Oh, you're tall."

Thomas: She did actually tower above me. She was about four inches taller. I was so nervous that my conversation was pretty awkward that night. And as soon as we got to the bar, Kat could sense it was awkward and she disappeared and came back with Irish car bombs. I was like, "Okay, right on." I think that was the turning point for me. —Hannah Sayle



LIBERTY LUCKEN AND ERIN KEYES have a lot on their plate. During the week, Lucken shuttles between Brooklyn and St. Louis Park as vice president of sales at Sony Music's Epic Records, and Keyes, a lawyer, works as the assistant dean of students at the University of Minnesota Law School. They're also parents to a three-year-old daughter, and ever since Liberty proposed to Erin at her 39th birthday party, they've been planning a wedding for October. When they first met, the night before Thanksgiving 2004, it was at the insistence of scheming friends.

Erin: I had been pretty recently out of a very long relationship, and had pledged a year of no relationships or dating or anything. My friend said, "You should meet this person named Liberty Lucken." I was like, "Hold up, number one, not interested in meeting anyone right now, and number two, what the hell kind of name is that?"

Liberty: I'd been out with some friends and said to them, "Do you know anybody nice, who knows what they want to be when they grow up, and is pretty funny, and intelligent, and it'd be really great if they're hot?" A friend of mine said, "I swear Erin Keyes is single."

Erin: It's the night before Thanksgiving, and I have to get up the next morning and drive to grandmother's house we go. Some friends were all heading out to Fuji Ya, and I decided to be out and about. By 9:30, I'm getting ready to leave. My friend Barb said, "No, you can't leave, Liberty just got here."

Liberty: I was out some place else on a date, and I kept getting these nonstop texts from my friends, like, "You have to come to Fuji Ya, Erin Keyes is here." I'm like, "I'm going to stay right here," but after I drop my date off, I go to Fuji Ya.

Erin: I'm standing up literally putting my coat on, and I look over to the doors and there's three people coming in around the same time. The first one I'm like, "Mm-mm," the second one, no, and then [the woman] who turns out to be Liberty walked in. I thought, "It would be rude not to say hi." Five minutes turned into five hours. After two more bars, we ended up at Barb's house, sitting on the couch having conversation and trying to avoid getting pooped on by Barb's pet chicken. —Olivia LaVecchia