Lindsay Ewell dreamed of a wedding at “the happiest place on earth,” where she first met her fiancé, Cody Miller, while on a college internship.
She chose June 20, 2020, as the date and booked a Florida-based photographer/videographer team whose “photos kind of speak to me,” she said, then set off to plan everything else around a Disney World wedding.
But when the guest list grew – and the cost with it – and Ewell realized how difficult the travel to Orlando would be for her 91-year-old grandmother, she altered her course and started looking for a wedding venue in her hometown of San Antonio.
“I think I must have spent three weeks, looking at hundreds of venues online,” Ewell said of the search that began 14 months before her scheduled wedding date. “I was super picky because, in my mind, I was being so kind and loving as a bride by moving states from where I had wanted to be. … I’m not going to compromise.”
Her must-haves were a place with natural light – thus, no dim hotel ballrooms – not too rustic, and a blank slate. “I needed to know that my vision for the day was not going to clash with the venue,” she said.
When she had the list narrowed to eight sites, she traveled from Columbia, South Carolina, where she and Miller live and work, to tour them all with parents Ken and Lisa Ewell. Noah’s Event Center, a venue at 18918 Ridgewood Parkway on the far North Side, won her heart – and a deposit of $1,180.
“All the reviews were positive,” she said, and everyone from the cake baker to the florist backed her choice. That was in February 2019, but by September, she began to hear that Noah’s was filing for bankruptcy.
A call to the corporate offices was met with reassurance that the San Antonio center was not being affected by a bankruptcy filing and would not close.
“Then we didn’t hear anything else until my mom called me last Friday,” she said, telling Ewell the venue had closed. Suddenly, her must-haves were irrelevant without a place to hold a wedding.
Noah Corp. of Utah, which operates 42 event centers across the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2019. The San Antonio center is owned by an investor group with an address in Austin, according to county records, and was leased to Noah Corp. starting in 2013.
But on Friday, Feb. 6, a bankruptcy judge ordered Noah to cease all operations. Word spread via social media, and Noah posted a letter to its website.
After a sleepless night, Ewell was on the phone Saturday. With no one answering calls at the San Antonio event center, Ewell made a frantic call to her original contact at Noah Corp. “When he reached out to me later, he said he had been fired months ago,” she said.
As her parents hit the pavement, checking out any venue that might be open during a popular month for weddings and a date many have chosen for its numeric interest – June 20, 2020 – Ewell’s family and friends also began to call, wondering if they should change or cancel plane tickets and hotel stays.
Though the couple’s invitations hadn’t been printed, the rehearsal dinner was scheduled for June 19 and paid for, as was her honeymoon, a cruise, for the week after.
There would be no changing the date or else the $7,000 they had already lost in the deposit and monthly payments to Noah’s would grow exponentially.
Most event venues, typically the biggest cost of any wedding, require a non-refundable deposit to secure a date. It will be difficult for couples to get their money back, stated the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Noah’s customers may be able to seek a refund through their bank or bankruptcy court, but that will take some time and there are no guarantees.
The average loss reported to the BBB over Noah’s closing is $4,386. The total amount lost by those who filed complaints so far is $48,250.
Rescue eventually came from the food caterer Ewell had already selected, Heavenly Gourmet. When owner Loretta Ortiz heard what was happening at Noah’s, her staff scoured the catering contracts for couples who had booked there. They found 22.
“We always put ourselves in our brides’ shoes, and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that is unfathomable,'” Ortiz said. “We’re very grateful we could help.”
The caterer offered Ewell a new venue they manage that had not opened yet, Devils River Whiskey Distillery, which is owned by Mike Cameron. He is lending the entire venue at no charge, an $8,900 value, Ortiz said. Ewell realized it was a good fit for their 200-guest wedding and reception, and jumped on it.
“She was one of the unfortunate ones, but we … think it turned into something magnificent,” Ortiz said.
Now with a new venue secured, Ewell isn’t quite breathing a sigh of relief after what her mother described as a roller coaster ride – the bride-to-be is just now reacting to the crisis.
“I was so focused on getting all the people who were invested in this event through the weekend, I didn’t really have time to be upset about it. I was just like, ‘Let’s move, let’s move, let’s just get it done,” Ewell said. “And so this week, it’s been a lot for me [to handle].”
Ewell and Miller will be married after a two-year engagement that was preceded by a lengthy, long-distance relationship. With four months to go until the wedding, they are just happy it all worked out.
“This was a good reminder of … the big wedding is mainly for the other people,” Ewell said. “For us, the core is about the marriage and starting that off on a strong foot.”
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