Is Berkeley Bowl the most romantic grocery store? These couples think so

They all found love at Berkeley Bowl — and have the photos to prove it.


As fun and as playful as Melody Yu and Joey Chiang’s engagement photo shoot at the Berkeley Bowl grocery store was, neither we nor the Bowl could confirm that they were the first couple to pose for a photographer in the produce aisles. Now we know for sure, they were not the first. Our story about them prompted three other couples to write in, saying that the Bowl played such a big role in their love stories that they too took photos there.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are their stories.

While Cal students, this couple considered the Bowl their playground, building entire meals around bags of expired produce from what they deemed “the squishy shelf.”

Carolyn Richter and Jeff Wayland wanted to get married at Berkeley Bowl, but had to settle for engagement photos there instead. Credit: Joe Mak Photography
Carolyn Richter gave Jeff Wayland a bouquet made from Berkeley Bowl produce on the first Valentine’s Day they spent together. Courtesy: Carolyn Richter

When the story about Yu and Chiang came out, several people sent it to Carolyn Richter, as Berkeley Bowl played such a big part in her courtship with Jeff Wayland that they wanted to get married there.

“We asked and it was a hard pass,” said Wayland, who envisioned a reception in the produce section, but would have settled for the cafe of Berkeley Bowl West. Since neither were doable, they were hoping to do their first look photos there for their planned May 2020 wedding, which was postponed by the pandemic. (If you’re unfamiliar, “first-look photos” are the images captured “when a couple sees each other for the first time on their wedding day,” according to Brides magazine. Now you know.)

“Our wedding photographer was stoked on the idea, so if anyone wants to do it there…” Richter said.

“My choosing Jeff in the pile of pineapples is his favorite photo,” Richter said. Credit: Joe Mak Photography

The couple, who met as UC Berkeley undergraduates in 2011, started dating in 2012. They met through the Cal marching band and a subset of those band members who were also rock climbers. They now live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Wayland, 32, is doing his medical residency. Richter, 29, will soon be opening a retail store.

Given that they plan to marry in New Mexico in September, their first-look photos at the Bowl are now off the table. At least they have their engagement photos.

Wayland was a Bowl regular at the time they met. “He introduced me to Berkeley Bowl,” Richter said. “That’s why I had to marry him.” Grocery shopping there quickly became something they loved to do together. “It became our playground,” she said.

On their first Valentine’s Day as a couple, Richter gave Wayland an arrangement of vegetables from the produce department, a gesture that made a friend of Wayland’s take notice. “She must really like you, to do something like that,” his friend said.

“It was one of those Pinterest vs. reality moments where it was a lot more beautiful in my brain than it actually ended up coming out,” Richter said.

In a story that Richter had never shared with Wayland until this interview, she was even planning on telling him that she loved him for the first time in the bulk aisle. But every time they were there, she chickened out.

Instead, they would just load up on the ingredients for what they called Wayland’s “Bajillion dollar granola.”

“I missed all of this because I’d just be distracted,” Wayland said.

Finally, they got into an argument (not at the Bowl), which ended with Wayland telling Richter that he loved her first, so love was never declared in the bulk aisle.

When they’d get to the Bowl early on a weekend morning, they’d try to be the first to what they deemed “the squishy shelf,” where pre-bagged produce past its prime is sold at a discount. They would grab whatever was there, and build a dinner around it.

Similarly, they would challenge each other by one choosing an unusual produce item for the other to figure out how to use it in a meal.

When they moved to El Cerrito after college, they would still bike or BART there. Richter said the last time she visited the Bay Area, she went straight to the Bowl from the airport, adding, “Every time we meet someone who went to Berkeley or lived in the area, the first thing we talk about is how much we miss Berkeley Bowl.”

This couple called their pandemic Bowl expeditions a highpoint; they love it for its sour beer selection and the Buddha’s hands and kumquats they know they’ll never buy.

Michaela Reilly and Ben Norton dated soon after they graduated from Berkeley High. They reunited years later. Credit: Conor Chung

Michaela Reilly and Ben Norton met when they were both students at Berkeley High School, and briefly dated the summer of 2012, right after they graduated. But they parted ways as life took them in different directions.

By 2017, they were both back in Berkeley, and still had friends in common.

Not long after they reunited, Michaela Reilly asked Ben Norton why he was shopping at another market “when you could be going to Berkeley Bowl?” Credit: Conor Chung

“We would bump into each other, and always had good conversations when we did, so one day, I just sort of thought to myself, ‘I wonder if we’d be really good together?’” Norton said. He chose Facebook messenger to ask what she thought.

“He said, ‘I think we’d make a good couple,’ and I said, ‘OK, let’s try it,’ and it worked,” said Reilly.

Both 27, Norton teaches English at the Making Waves Academy in Richmond. Reilly joined our interview from Tanzania, where she is staying for two months doing research for her undergraduate degree at UC Davis.

Though they expressed their hesitation about coming off as “total shills” for the market, as Reilly phrased it, their love of the Bowl runs deep.

When they started dating, Norton shopped at another market that was closest to his parents’ house, where he was living at the time. Or, as he put it, “I was ignoring my own heritage.” One day, Reilly asked him point blank: “Why are you shopping there when you could be going to Berkeley Bowl?”

Norton says the Bowl’s $6.99 overstuffed burritos made him into a convert, but it didn’t take long before he discovered the breadth of the rest of the store. “Berkeley Bowl is just literally the best grocery store,” said Norton. “There’s a reason Samin [Nosrat, author of Salt Fat Acid Heat] went there in her Netflix show, because the produce is section is incredible. The bulk section is iconic.”

“I never knew I needed 93 varieties of apples,” said Reilly, “when I only buy Honeycrisps,” said Norton, finishing her thought. Then, he added, “I love to walk past those obscure fruits like the Buddha’s hands and the kumquats knowing I’m never gonna buy them, but I’m so glad they’re there.”

During the pandemic, the Emeryville couple developed a routine, going there together, since there were so few places they could go. Choosing new craft beers to try, especially when it came to kettle sours, became a high point of their week.

“They have a rotating selection of local interesting stuff, so we would often buy four new sours,” said Norton.

Speaking of the pandemic, Norton said, “I feel like that solidified its place in my life,” with Reilly adding, “If I ever move away, it will be a place I deeply miss.” Even so, Norton also said he can get overwhelmed there.

“I never knew I needed 93 varieties of apples,” Michaela Reilly said. Credit: Conor Chung

“Ben needs help when he goes to the store,” Reilly said. “It’s true,” said Norton. “If I don’t have a list, I get there and I black out. I leave with bread, and other things that aren’t good for me, like lettuce I won’t eat. I need her there to help me.”

Another hazard is that if Norton goes alone, and Reilly asks him to, say, bring home something sweet for her, he’ll be unable to choose and bring home four different options.

“You have to cover your bases,” he said.

While the couple had their photographer take photos of them in many locales to commemorate their engagement, the Bowl had to be among them. The couple plans to marry Aug. 7 at the Emeryville marina with a reception in Oakland.

“We both know we’re not special for loving Berkeley Bowl, it’s such an institution,” Norton said, adding that he feels a kinship with those who have taken photos there. “But we feel we’re part of a pretty elite club.”

They met when he chatted her up in the frozen food aisle, where she was giving out tea samples. So, naturally, they did their maternity shoot there.

Victoria Perenyi and Nando Jameson met in the Bowl’s frozen food aisle. Credit: Travis Woodland

When a photographer friend of Victoria Perenyi and Nando Jameson offered to do a maternity shoot for the Oakland couple, their first reaction was to pass.

Citing her Hungarian background, Perenyi says she’s superstitious, and didn’t want to do anything that could be seen as celebrating the birth before the baby came. Also, she said delicately, classic maternity photo shoots are not for her. But their photographer friend, Travis Woodland, had a different idea. When he suggested they do a humorous, non-traditional shoot, Jameson and he came up with the Bowl idea. It was an obvious choice, since the couple had met in the frozen food aisle.

It was October 2011. A music student at San Francisco State University, Perenyi was working part-time for a promotions company and had been dispatched to Berkeley Bowl to hand out tea samples. When she arrived, she was told to set up in the frozen food aisle.

“I had never been to the Bowl before, and in fact, it was only my second time in Berkeley,” she said. “I had hardly crossed the bridge before. I felt I was in a foreign land, and was angry about it, too.”

Perenyi said the job had pros and cons; on the pro side was that she could get her homework done during slow periods, but a major con was the “yo-yos coming up to you asking questions because you’re stuck and can’t go anywhere.”

Whether she viewed Jameson as one of those yo-yos at first, she wouldn’t say. But given that Jameson said he thought of the Bowl as not only the place to get the best produce, but to spot beautiful women, that day definitely didn’t disappoint.

At the time, Jameson worked both as an English as a Second Language teacher, and at the Piedmont Movie Theater. “I was throwing a party and I had 15 pounds of tomatoes in my cart to make homemade salsa,” Jameson said. “I was walking by the frozen aisle, which is not my shtick; Usually, I’m more bouncing between the produce and the hot bar.”

Perenyi was wearing a white lab coat as part of her job, and was working on her jazz theory homework when Jameson approached.

Given that Jameson had studied piano for much of his life, he was knowledgeable enough about music to ask Perenyi about what she was studying.

Victoria Perenyi and Nando Jameson’s daughter, Ofelia, was born during the pandemic. Credit: Travis Woodland

“At first, she was very hard to read, because all I’m getting is this generic white coat,” Jameson said.

Perenyi said he came off as both charming and nervous at the same time. The fact that she could see he was nervous worked in his favor. After chatting her up for a bit, Jameson said he’d like to get her email because he too would like similar work, in which he could work on other things while giving out samples.

“We both knew it was just a ruse to get my number,” said Perenyi, adding, “Who on God’s green earth would want to do this job?”

But he wasn’t done. Jameson suspected Perenyi fielded more random “yo-yos,” in her parlance, than the average woman.

“She can’t run away from weird people who are trying to pick her up, in that position,” he said. So, in what he called “the key to my success,” as he was leaving the checkout stand, he waved in the most awkward way possible. “I was trying not to be Mr. Cool,” he said.

“It was this giant, circus clown kind of wave, or this exaggerated airport kind of wave, with this goofy smile on his face,” she said. “It showed that he had a sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to look silly. It was so cute and charming.”

While they dated for about six months, it wasn’t until Perenyi went to Argentina and he followed her there, that they truly fell in love. They married in Budapest in 2017, and their daughter, Ofelia, 1, was born during the pandemic.

Now 35 and 34, Jameson teaches software sales, and Perenyi is a violinist.

No doubt, when Ofelia is old enough, she will hear the story of how her parents met in the frozen food aisle at Berkeley Bowl, and see the photos of her in utero, there. “The employees were like, ‘Really? Here?’” when they came in early, before the store opened to take the photos, Perenyi said. “We told them, ‘It’s very special to us, it’s where we met.”

And according to Jameson, “Berkeley Bowl has nurtured our love and our life since then.”

Victoria Perenyi and Nando Jameson buck the produce section photo session trend with the least “Berkeley Bowl” of foods, the mass-produced frozen waffle. Credit: Travis Woodland
Alix Wall has lived in Oakland since 2002, with some summers spent in Berkeley as a child, and has written for Berkeleyside since 2013. She writes mostly about food.