It’s true, romantic love changes. It evolves as time goes by, and those in lasting relationships learn to accept each other in new ways, hopefully finding humor in their differences. Recently, three Northside couples reflected on how they met — and the bonds that keep their love alive.
This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Living Northside magazine.
Fred and Nancy Castellucci, Johns Creek
Nancy Castellucci needed a part-time college job in 1977 when she applied for a position at her future husband Fred’s Italian restaurant in Rhode Island. He was looking to hire a bartender.
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“I had no restaurant experience, but I told him I was the fastest learner he’d ever meet,” she says. “I went home, memorized a book on how to mix drinks and got the job.”
She also got an earful about Fred from the string of girls he was dating. “He’d have one at each end of the bar and one in the dining room, but I was so unimpressed,” Nancy says. “I think that’s what attracted him to me.”
They agree that their first date was a near disaster. “I knew nothing about food,” she says. “In my Irish-Catholic family, food was bland meat and potatoes. We went to this great Italian restaurant, but I kept saying, ‘I’ve never had that before.’ I finally asked for a grilled pork chop and applesauce.”
Fred still remembers calling in a favor and asking the chef to go out and buy the pork chops. “That’s when I realized what a hurdle this relationship was going to be,” says Fred, who grew up around lavish meals in an Italian-Greek family. “But as time went on, we got more serious, and I introduced her to more dishes. She was hilarious through it all.”
The couple has been working together ever since. They married in 1984. Since moving to Georgia in 1996, they’ve run restaurants around North Fulton, including Sugo in Johns Creek. Their three children have followed them into the business, operating several eateries (Double Zero Napoletana in Sandy Springs, Cooks & Soldiers in Atlanta) under the umbrella of the Castellucci Hospitality Group.
“Food is our passion,” Nancy says. “We don’t think twice about working together. We laugh a lot. Even if there’s a problem, we have a glass of wine and laugh it off.”
Nancy says she’s learned to defer to her husband on all food decisions. “He’s always been so good at it that I never learned to cook,” she says. “But I can open a helluva bottle of wine, and I have no problem washing dishes.”
Relationship insider Tip: Find the hilarity in any situation. “That’s what keeps things together through good and bad times,” Fred Castellucci says. “Humor makes up for all the things that irritate you.”
Bruce and Sharon LeVell, Sandy Springs
Valentine’s Day marks Bruce and Sharon LeVell’s 24th wedding anniversary. Getting Sharon to the altar wasn’t easy, Bruce says, despite being bowled over when he first met her at a Buckhead restaurant.
“She’s super smart and I like having my brain scrubbed,” he laughs. “We dated about two years through a very long vetting process. She said if I wanted to get married, I’d have to take a course at her church, so we went to pre-marital counseling for two hours a week for 12 weeks.”
Sharon remembers how Bruce kept staring at her that day at the restaurant before getting up the courage to introduce himself.
“We had a blast,” she says. “Bruce is a great talker who can connect with people. He’s very entertaining and funny. He still makes me laugh all the time.”
They’re partners in business as well as love. Sharon left her job in information technology in 1994 to join Bruce in his diamond business. For the last five years, they have owned Dunwoody Diamonds.
“It’s not much different from working in any other environment,” Bruce says. “We don’t carry on. We treat each other as if we were working anywhere else.”
Having their own company made raising their two children easier, Sharon says. “I had the flexibility to run out and pick them up when I needed to,” she says. “When they were young, I had a room set up at the store with a sofa, toys, a TV and a computer, just like at home.”
The couple still sticks to the lessons about respect, communication and handling differences that they learned during those early counseling sessions. (In fact, they often recommend counseling to couples they meet in their store.
The LeVells have excellent role models for marriage, Sharon says.
“We have generational marriages on both sides,” she says. “Our parents have been married more than 60 years, and our grandparents were together for a long time, too. That’s given us a great foundation.”
And it helps that life hasn’t been boring, she adds. “Oh no, it’s never that. Bruce is not going to allow it to be.”
Relationship insider Tip: Learn each other’s abilities and recognize the other’s strengths and weaknesses. “We have opposite skills, but we know and appreciate each other’s abilities,” Sharon LeVell says.
Becky and Dave Wallis, Roswell
Becky and Dave Wallis had very different upbringings. She’s an eighth-generation Kentuckian; he’s a California dude. The two met while working at an Atlanta accounting firm.
“He’d come into my cubicle most mornings with his coffee and talk, talk and talk,” Becky recalls. “I did a lot of volunteer and community service, and he was very interested in that. But I used to wonder how this boy got any work done.”
Dave remembers it differently. “It was an office romance, but she stalked me like there was no tomorrow,” he says. “I may have impinged on her work time, but we were friends. I had a girlfriend. In fact, I was with that girlfriend one time when Becky called, and we talked for an hour.”
Dave and the girlfriend broke up. He and Becky grew serious in their relationship, while he found great humor in how she grew up around chickens, reptiles and turtles.
“It turned out he had a lot of what I call ‘mountain’ in him,” she says. “We enjoyed a lot of the same things, especially gardening.”
The two married 21 years ago and say they have changed each other in various ways. “He’s very involved in volunteering, doing a lot of board service now,” says Becky, who works with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Atlanta Children’s Shelter and the Junior League of Atlanta. She’s also head of the Fine Arts Alliance at Holy Innocents Episcopal School, where their only child is a student.
Dave, a partner at Deloitte, serves on the board of the Georgia Advocacy Office.
Both love their house, which backs up to the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
“It’s our home on the water,” Becky says. “There’s a big pond in the back that he stocks with trout and catfish.”
The Wallises are committed to the long view of their marriage, Dave says. “I remember being in a Bible study when I had been married a few years, and I was the youngest one there,” he says. “Some of the men had marriages of 40, 50 years. Someone would say they’d had a bad decade in their marriage, and I’d think, ‘Decade?’ Every once in a while we had a bad weekend, but decade? I had never heard of the long perspective, having grown up in a generation of disposable marriages. But we made the decision up front to take that perspective. Now we don’t really talk about it, we just recognize that’s how it is.”
Relationship insider Tip: Recognize that no relationship is perfect; there will be good and bad times you must deal with together. “You do that by not thinking about yourself, but instead doing what’s right for the family,” Dave Wallis says. “Know that you’ll make it out of that valley and up the hill together.”