Three reporters at the New Haven Register can look back on this Valentine’s Day and say they’ve done more than their part over the past year in playing cupid.
Annette Kirk, a supervisor at the Knights of Columbus, and Dan LaTorraca, a retired banker from Hamden, were fixed up on a date at Bar Bouchee in Madison thanks to the New Haven Register Matchmaker program.
Amanda Pinto, Alexandra Sanders and Susan Misur launched the Register’s “Matchmaker” program last year after Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury asked staff to think up community engagement ideas.
They set up readers on dates at local restaurants, who donate a $100 gift certificate for the occasion and get some free publicity in the process.
Pinto got the idea after being glued to a similar feature, “Dining with Cupid,” a few years ago in the Boston Globe.
“I was convinced the model would work here – as a vehicle to bring in younger readers and foster community engagement,” Pinto said. “It is intriguing copy, and it has that ‘reality TV’ voyeurism aspect that is so popular today.”
Pinto had to think through liability issues, seeking and getting permission from the Globe to mirror its legal release form for participants. And how to best solicit participants.
“There have been hiccups,” she said. “The first match we sent out was a disaster, and the man, who maligned an ethnic group during his date (according to the woman he dined with), threatened to sue us if we published the column. Even though he had signed off on all the paperwork, the decision was made that it was best not to start off on that foot.”
“Once we started publishing matches, there were other challenges – daters who bailed at the last minute or never returned our calls,” Pinto said. “We very nearly sent one woman to a restaurant owned by her former boss (the work relationship had ended badly).”
But there have been many success stories.
Since launching in late summer, 140 readers have signed up to participate, ranging in age from 21 to 83.
Melissa Tardif, a custodian at Quinnipiac University and dental hygienist, and Vincent Cerbone, an ultrasound technologist from Fairfield, hit it off from the start at their Matchmaker date at Leon's in New Haven. "I noticed how gentleman-like he was. ... He seemed genuine and real, like a great father, attentive."
Pinto, Sanders and Misur have paired readers up for dates once a week since August, with the help of 17 participating restaurants. They’re on their 20th match.
Readership has been strong.
“One dater told me she got recognized on the street for her participation in Matchmaker, and that a convenience store clerk spotted her and regaled other customers with a retelling of the column,” Pinto said. “Another reporter here was told a small office ‘didn’t get any work done’ the morning one of the columns came out, because they couldn’t stop discussing the date, which featured a ‘great kisser.’”
Matchmaker participants are asked to describe the night in an article that appears each week in the Register and to give a letter grade to the date.
And the possibility of a love connection? Many of the readers who have been set up on Matchmaker dates say they’ll see each other again.