Aaron Califf stood nervously between the grapes and raspberries, fiddling with his store-brand hat and greeting shoppers just after noon Saturday.
“Hello, welcome to Whole Foods,” he said. “Can I help you find anything?”
But the 26-year-old from Fort Lauderdale — who does not actually work at the market — had a more personal question for one customer in particular.
His girlfriend of six years, 27-year-old Jessica Shiekman, was about to walk through the automatic doors into an orchestrated event that involved the cooperation of her mother, several family members who flew into town, the store’s marketing team leader and its public relations firm.
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“It was definitely a first,” said Jonny Rose, who heads up marketing for the store at 2000 N. Federal Hwy. in Fort Lauderdale, about Califf’s request to stage a proposal there.
“I hope the wedding isn’t this complicated,” said Becky Califf of Plantation, Aaron’s mother, as she waited for her future daughter-in-law to arrive.
“This is Jessica’s self-proclaimed happy place,” said Califf, who manages dental offices while working on his MBA. “I wanted to catch her off guard.”
Mission accomplished. Shiekman, a family therapist, thought she was heading to the store for a less momentous occasion.
“I was coming to get my sister a kalicious before we went to the mall,” she said, referring to the kale-spinach-banana-lemon-apple juice smoothie.
Instead, she saw Califf, looking “very handsome” in the Whole Foods apron and hat, standing behind a table covered in red rose petals, quinoa salad and a ring-sized box. Look After You by The Fray, one of her favorite songs, was playing. Relatives hid behind floral displays. A woman browsed the grape selection.
Shiekman froze and looked at her mother, Karen Shiekman, before Califf took her arm. He dodged an oblivious man and cart, grabbed the ring and got down on one knee. What he said next wasn’t loud enough for the family members, employees, customers and assembled media to hear.
“He asked if I would spend the rest of my life with him,” a blushing, dazed Shiekman said a few minutes later, wearing both the ring and the hat. “I think I said yes. I said yes.”
A customer who gave her name as Inja watched the whole thing unfold. “This is beautiful,” she said before finishing her shopping.
Family members who gathered seemed thrilled and maybe a little amused by the whole affair.
Said John Shiekman, Jessica’s father: “What’s a proposal without quinoa?”