Wedding Inspiration: Berkeley restaurant Comal is a fab, unexpected backdrop for an authentic fête


Margaret Manson and Jared Hanson met as so many creative Bay Area types do: at Philz Coffee.

Manson, a freelance copywriter, was doing the work-from-Philz thing that day; Hanson just happened to get a nail in his tire and was waiting on a repair nearby. And so began their first date: After chatting a bit at the cafe, he asked her out to lunch; they spent the next couple hours at a restaurant around the corner. Two years later, he proposed on their deck in the Berkeley hills post-New Year's Eve fireworks.

The couple wanted a wedding that would be authentic to them—no hotel ballrooms that would feel like a disconnect.

"We wanted our friends and family to arrive at our wedding and think, 'Oh yeah, this is so Margaret and Jared,'" says Manson. While brainstorming, the couple who loves eating out together kept circling back to one big priority: great food and drinks. They decided to treat their guests to "an incredible culinary experience," not typical wedding fare. "We had many guests traveling from out of town, and we wanted to highlight the Bay Area's focus on great, fresh food."

The other requirement: an outdoor ceremony.

Berkeley's Oaxacan eatery Comal has been their favorite for years (it's within walking distance of their home), and it was their top choice—but the restaurant had never hosted a wedding before. "When Comal said they thought it would be fun to host our wedding, we literally did a happy dance. We felt like we had hit the jackpot, because Comal is representative of us. We eat there often, and we were excited to share our favorite neighborhood restaurant with our loved ones."

The spacious, outdoor patio provided a rustic-chic alfresco spot for the ceremony where, in an "unorthodox" move, family members' speeches took place (the couple wanted dinner to be uninterrupted). "It ended up being one of the best decisions we made," says Hanson. "Not only did our speakers have everyone's undivided attention—without guests attempting to eat while listening—but it also gave our families the opportunity to say a few words before we became husband and wife, which made their blessings an integral part of the ceremony."

The couple had also shared their vows with each other before the big day so that they could relax and really appreciate what they were promising to each other rather than being flooded with raw emotion. "Some purists might disapprove of this idea, but we followed what felt right to us and it ended up enhancing our experience," says Manson. "Everything happens so fast on your wedding day that it's difficult to absorb each moment and every word."

And then it was on to dinner inside, where there were fresh tortillas, mezcal tastings, and signature his-and-hers cocktails ("the Hanson" and "the Manson"). Chef Matt Gandin personalized the experience—their friends and family are still raving. Then it was back outside for dancing under the stars.

"Most wedding venues are very prescriptive: You can only use certain caterers, the music has to be off at 10pm on the dot, and you pick from a limited and basic beverage list," says Manson, praising the Comal team for being so open about the details. "Also, Comal has such a cool environment that we didn't need to bring in decor. We brought flowers, and that's it. The restaurant—both outside and inside—is modern while feeling warm and inviting, and that's our own design aesthetic at home."

Favorite moments? They surprises they planned for their loved ones. Manson and her family love to dance, so she and her dad and sister choreographed a routine. Then, Hanson's cousin grabbed the mic and sang "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to invite everyone else to the dance floor.

"Our message to couples is this: Don't be scared to deviate from traditions if it feels right for you, because those unusual moments will be the ones that you and your guests enjoy the most," Hanson says. Cheers to that.

Venue: Comal

Wedding Coordinator:Etc. Events

Florist: Belle Flower

Hair and makeup:Angela Womack

Dress: The Blair from Rime Arodaky (French designer found at Loho Bride in San Francisco)

Bride's engagement ring: Custom made by Margaret's mother's partner (David Byron Design)

Bride's wedding ring:Sausalito Jewelers

Bride's hair accessories: "Take My Breath Away Hairpins" from Olivia the Wolf

Bride's necklace and earrings:Luv Aj

Bride's shoes:Sexy Thing from Aquazurra

Groom's suit and shirt:Custom Giorgio Armani

Groom's shoes:Giorgio Armani

Groom's wedding ring: titanium ring from Curtis Arima, found at Shibumi Gallery in Berkeley

Save the date cards, invitations and thank you cards: Minted

Photography:Melissa Gayle Photography

Videographer:Imperial Productions

DJ: Dart Collective

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