Tennessee bride surprises groom with Waffle House reception

(NewsNation) — One Tennessee couple had the wedding reception of a lifetime at their local Waffle House.

For Eli Holbrook, Waffle House means more than just an all-star breakfast. The Lebanon, Tennessee, native grew up going to the diner on South Cumberland Street.

Eli joined the Marines after graduating high school and was stationed in Japan. For every homecoming, his family made a point to treat him to a warm Waffle House meal.

As his bride Mary Cate Holbrook puts it, it’s Eli’s favorite place to be. She knew she wanted to incorporate the restaurant into their wedding plans somehow.

Newlyweds Mary Cate and Eli Holbrook hold their wedding reception at a Waffle House in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Jessica Hamblen with Life Through a Lens provided to NewsNation.)

Since the beginning of their relationship, she said Eli would periodically tease her by asking if they could have Waffle House cater their wedding one day.

“If you ask Eli, he claims he always knew we would get married one day,” Mary Cate told NewsNation.

With Eli at the top of her mind, Mary Cate decided to surprise him by having their wedding reception at their local Waffle House.

“After getting engaged, I quickly realized how much attention goes into the bride, and the groom seems to fade into the background, not really being heard or thought of much during the planning process,” Mary Cate said. “The eyes are on the bride. I wanted my groom to feel just as special.”

Newlyweds Mary Cate and Eli Holbrook hold their wedding reception at a Waffle House in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Jessica Hamblen with Life Through a Lens provided to NewsNation.)

On Sunday, she carried out her surprise plan. The couple exchanged vows in an intimate ceremony on their family’s farm in Lebanon and went to Waffle House with guests to celebrate afterwards.

Mary Cate said Eli had no idea where the reception would be until they revealed the big plan.

“He didn’t believe us at first. He thought we were just picking at him until we actually got in our cars to head that way,” Mary Cate said. “He continued to ask if I was serious until we pulled in and he saw the rest of our family setting up the tables inside.”

That’s when the smothered and covered reception began!

“They shut the whole restaurant down, gave them name tags, coffee cups, hats, made a hash brown heart and sang ‘Fancy Like’ by Walker Hayes, changing Applebee’s in the song to Waffle House,” photographer Jessica Hamblen, owner of Life Through A Lens, told NewsNation.

Newlyweds Mary Cate and Eli Holbrook hold their wedding reception at a Waffle House in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Jessica Hamblen with Life Through a Lens provided to NewsNation.)

Other than shooting the couple’s engagement and wedding pictures, Hamblen said this was the first time she had worked with the newlyweds. But she hopes it won’t be her last!

“I’ve taken likely hundreds of thousands of pictures in my 10 years as a photographer but never a reception at Waffle House,” Hamblen said. “They were the sweetest couple and absolutely so low maintenance and so fun!”

Mary Cate said the Waffle House on South Cumberland Street went “above and beyond” to make her vision come to life.

Newlyweds Mary Cate and Eli Holbrook hold their wedding reception at a Waffle House in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Jessica Hamblen with Life Through a Lens provided to NewsNation.)

“They offered to help us set up decorations and the serving staff catered to our every need,” Mary Cate said. “They even allowed my stepfather to live out his bucket list request of ‘calling out’ the food orders to the cook line.”

Mary Cate and Eli said they will continue to be frequent customers of Waffle House and hope to return in the future to celebrate more of life’s finest moments.

And their go-to orders? Mary Cate’s favorite is the cheesesteak hash brown bowl with onions and peppers. Eli prefers the cheesesteak omelet with jalapenos and double hash browns scattered, covered and peppered.

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