Pittsburgh, the Perfect Backdrop for Bliss"I have always been a hopeless romantic. I know it sounds corny, but I believe in love."
Lots of people call themselves hopeless romantics. And then there is entrepreneur Neal Holmes.
He once helped a smitten man plant love poems for his girlfriend along the walking trails of Frick Park and tuck them inside books of Shakespeare's sonnets at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
At the end of her scavenger hunt, the woman was brought by limo to the man's newly decorated house, where he knelt on the ground and popped the big question. To top off that old-fashioned romantic moment, the freshly engaged duo then joined their friends and relatives for a dinner of French, Spanish, South African and Jamaican cuisine, representing the couple's international travels together.
Holmes is not a matchmaker or a therapist, but love is his business. His company, Designing Love Inc., creates high-end dates and events for people in love. Its motto: "Your business partner in love."
His love-struck clients include Pittsburgh Steelers as well as everyday people who want to splurge on someone special. His prices range from $250 for a simple scavenger hunt and picnic to as much as $2,500 for an elaborate dinner party.
Wearing an elegant vintage blazer and baseball cap that frames his dreadlocks, the 34-year-old exudes a natural grace. A former professional singer and dancer, he brings a theatrical sense to the serious business of love.
For example, one couple told him that they wanted guests who came to their anniversary party to feel as though they had entered another world. Holmes' solution: an Alice in Wonderland dinner served on upside-down plates on a glass-topped upside-down table, with a sideways painting hanging on a nearby wall.
For another couple, he staged a "So You Think You Can Dance" affair where the guests competed on the dance floor before a dinner party. "The more out-of-the-box, the better," he says. In fact, he envisions staging a proposal where the man and bystanders break out in song. "It would be just like the movies. How cool would that proposal be?" says Holmes, who is still looking for a daring groom willing to go for it.
For Holmes, Pittsburgh is the perfect backdrop for creating upscale dates, marriage proposals and commemorative dinners. After all, it was in Pittsburgh that he fell in love with his partner, Paul Hawkins, after moving here four years ago.
The city has been an ideal place to grow his business. "I think Pittsburgh is a great entrepreneurial town," Holmes says. "It has such a rich and diverse community, with so many different target audiences."
Plus, he loves the texture of the various neighborhoods, which make for interesting scavenger hunts. "Pittsburgh is a hidden gem. People are pleasantly surprised how cosmopolitan it is," he says.
Celebrating love comes naturally to Holmes. "I have always been a hopeless romantic. I know it sounds corny, but I believe in love," he says. "Everyone should have a chance to love and be loved respectfully."
He's so serious about love that he has turned down prospective clients. One man asked him to plan a proposal because his girlfriend was hounding him to get married. "I didn't see a spark in his idea," Holmes says. "I told him we wouldn't do it."
Just like any self-respecting, hopelessly romantic entrepreneur.
Check out Neal's Pittsburgh.