TAMPA — Josh Bonanno and Amanda Kimble descended the grand staircase at the Oxford Exchange as brand-new husband and wife and marveled at the beautifully rendered room packed with nearly 200 smiling faces.
"When we first toured the place, we had to wear hard hats," said Amanda, 25, a development coordinator at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. "Parts of it were hard to envision when they were explaining it to us."
But much as they have done during their entire relationship, the couple stepped out on faith.
"The people responsible for the project were really excited about it," said Josh, 25, a manager at Buddy Brew Coffee. "They were so passionate about it, it was hard to ignore. It was a good sell."
And so, in July 2012 — while parts of the Oxford Exchange were still concrete block — Josh and Amanda signed a contract and committed to holding what would be among the first of the venue's weddings.
For the college sweethearts, the venue became another example of their charm and traditionalism — a physical representation of their classic love.
The story began way, way back when both Josh and Amanda were 16. They met at Van Dyke Methodist Church in Lutz. Though they didn't attend the same high school — he went to Pepin Academy and she went to Gaither High — the two traveled in the same circle of friends.
"Yes, she thought I was cute," Josh laughed. "We went on dates but we never really dated."
Still, Amanda managed to be Josh's first kiss. And they went to homecoming and prom together senior year.
It wasn't until the summer before college that something clicked. Shortly after that, Josh left for New York's Culinary Institute of America and Amanda headed to Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Flights, phone calls and one bus ride kept the couple connected for the nearly five years it took to complete their studies.
In February 2012, as Amanda was preparing to complete her master's degree, she decided to visit Josh in Tampa.
"We'd never been able to be together on Valentine's Day since we've been together," she said. "So I decided to visit him the weekend after."
She'd planned to go out to dinner with Josh when she arrived, but he offered to cook for her instead.
"I was sort of mad because I don't like changed plans, and I knew that if he was cooking he would work so hard, and I just wanted to spend time with him," she said.
When she arrived at Josh's house, the backyard was filled with candles and lanterns and a beautiful table awaited with a five-course meal. They ate and exchanged Valentine's Day gifts, but Amanda's bag was empty.
Perplexed, she looked up to see Josh down on one knee presenting her with a ring.
"I said yes," she said with a laugh.
Then Josh asked her who she would like to call and tell first about the engagement. Family members' and friends' names were rattled off in quick succession but he never presented her with a phone.
Josh led his fiancee back inside the house, and nearly everyone she had named was waiting inside.
"It was a big party," he said.
A little over a year later, it was time to do it again. On May 25, bridesmaids got decked out in coral dresses in the Floridan Hotel before leaving for Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, where Josh's parents had married. Their pastor from Van Dyke Church served as the officiant.
The ring bearer and flower girl almost started a giggle fest when he bolted off without her and she froze mid-aisle as the guests watched her drop flowers.
"I'm standing at the altar trying not to laugh as her father leans over from the first row trying to coax her down," Josh recalled. Eventually, the nervous girl tossed the flowers and ran, beginning Amanda's march into her future.
After the ceremony, the couple took pictures at the University of Tampa and headed to the Oxford Exchange for the reception.
"It felt really like classic Tampa," Amanda said. "That made it really special for us, since we grew up here."
To accommodate the large group, Oxford Exchange had furniture removed from one room and set up a DJ for a dance floor.
The building rocked into the late hours as guests danced the night away.
"We're both Italian and we had the tarantella dance," Amanda said. "It was so much fun."
Fun, but traditional.
"We're old-school. We got an apartment together about a month before the wedding but didn't move in officially until after we got back from the honeymoon," Josh said. "That's just how we are."