“Nice to feel like a million bucks” – The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH – Zoie Henry was beaming as soon as she put on the dress.

Henry was one of 10 brides-to-be selected for this year’s free dress giveaway for hired restaurant workers Nov. 14 at Ava Clara Couture Bridal in Virginia Beach.

Senior bartender at Oscar’s Oceanside, an Oceanfront restaurant, Henry applied two weeks ago and said she cried when she heard of his acceptance.

“I was so surprised and excited,” said the 25-year-old.

Knowing well what her ideal dress would be, Henry tried on five dresses before saying yes to the dress.

Once the veil was draped over her head, she turned to her mother, Elizabeth Dalton, and future mother-in-law, Patti Driscoll, and let the tears flow.

“You know it’s the one when you don’t want to take it off,” she says.

Henry’s choice, a stunning lace gown made by Casablanca Bridal, cost around $2,500.

“It’s not a dress I could afford; my budget was around $500,” she said.

Henry’s 2-month-old son, Ozzy, took a peaceful nap in the locker room as his mother ticked off a major item on her to-do list ahead of her October 2023 wedding to Henry’s father, Robbie Driscoll.

“It is difficult to plan a wedding; at least that stress is off his plate,” Dalton said.

In the restaurant industry for nine years, Henry is very familiar with the stress that comes with it. At the start of the pandemic, the bar where she worked closed for three months and she struggled to find another job to make ends meet.

This is precisely what led Alex Fleear, owner of Ava Clara Couture Bridal, to focus his nonprofit, Tulle 4 All, on restaurant workers engaged for this year’s giveaway.

In business for 13 years, she said she started the organization a month before the pandemic hit. The event focused on healthcare professionals in 2020 and teachers in 2021.

“We want to say thank you,” she said of the restaurant workers. “It’s a tough area… especially with COVID and them not knowing if they were going to get a job. I know a lot of businesses have closed. These girls are tough.

Hallie Spengler, a waitress at Big Sam’s Inlet Cafe and Raw Bar in Virginia Beach, said the small family business closed for a few months at the start of the pandemic.

“I got another job in the meantime, but it wasn’t the same kind of money I was making before,” she said.

During the reopening, an improvised dining room was set up in the parking lot of the restaurant.

“It made me a stronger server,” she said.

Prepared to find the perfect dress for her wedding next year to fiancé Cody Hall, Spengler said she can’t wait for the day they say I do.

The couple, engaged to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, set their big day for Oct. 6 at the Lesner Inn in Virginia Beach.

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Spengler’s mother, Kelly Ordille, and stepmother, Carly Spengler, shared the touching morning event.

“You look beautiful in every one of them,” Ordille said.

But, Spengler made up his mind and kept coming back to the same dress.

A graduate in December from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, Spengler said the free dress is an amazing gift that helps ease some financial stress.

Henry agreed and said money was tight, but their intimate little wedding will be magical no matter what.

“It will be nice to feel like a million dollars, even if we don’t have a dime,” she said.

Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836, [email protected]

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