SOLE Mates // Restaurant co-workers share love, life and a name

By Pamela H. Sacks
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
Wednesday,February 13, 2008

They like the same music and work at the same restaurant. Their idea of fun is a quiet evening at home.

The Andreolis also share something else: He’s Eric and she’s Ericka. And, yes, they are teased about it all the time.

“When people bring up the name thing, I say, ‘Love is cruel,’” Eric said with a chuckle.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, Eric and Ericka agreed to talk about how they got together, what it’s like to work together and what they think makes their marriage a success.

The conversation took place over lunch at The Sole Proprietor, where both have been employed for a number of years. Their 16-month-old daughter, Aviendha, munched on french fries and trotted around, a popular presence among the staff at the seafood restaurant at 118 Highland St. in Worcester.

Eric, who is 33, had been at the Sole for five years when Ericka, 28, took a job at the restaurant six and a half years ago while studying at Worcester State College. Eric had studied psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “It taught me a lot about people,” he said, “but it didn’t point the way to a career.”

Eric is now a manager. He waits on tables on Saturdays because it keeps him in touch with customers and helps with family finances. Since having their daughter, Ericka works a double shift tending bar on Saturdays. Otherwise, she’s a stay-at-home mom.

Professional togetherness presents its challenges. Eric is Ericka’s direct boss.

“Sometimes, I have to put aside my ‘husbandness’ and yell a little,” he remarked.

Smiling, she shook her head in agreement. “You have to separate it out,” she said. “It isn’t personal.”

Best efforts aside, emotions occasionally intrude.

“I have to watch guys hit on her,” Eric said, looking grim. “I’ve said, ‘Rein it in. That’s my wife,’”

When the Andreolis got involved about three years ago, Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist, who own the Sole and two other Worcester restaurants, 111 Chophouse and Via, both on Shrewsbury Street, urged them to think twice about a workplace romance.

But love could not be stopped.

“We kept it secret,” Eric said. “We were very cautious.”

“Everyone else says they knew,” Erica added, laughing. “They could tell by the way we looked at each other.”

The Andreolis were friends for three years before things turned romantic. When they first got acquainted, both were involved with other people. But those relationships ended, and things took their course.

“We were friendly, and I would come over and hang out,” Ericka recalled. “I had broken up for a while. I dated but nothing clicked.”

One night after a shift at the Sole, Ericka came home to discover that someone had broken into her apartment.

After the police left, she wasn’t sure how to secure the door. It was 3 a.m., and she called Eric for advice. “He said, ‘Pack a bag. I have a spare bedroom. Come over,’”she recounted.

Eric deals in real estate on the side. He was living in a three-bedroom apartment in a building he owns in Worcester. Ericka’s apartment was ransacked two more times. Eric told her she could crash at his place whenever she liked.

They began to hang around together more often. “There was a spark,” Eric said.

Ericka didn’t want a fling. She thought Eric needed to get out and live a little.

“I didn’t want to be ‘rebound girl,’” Ericka said. “We had such a great friendship. I didn’t want to lose a good friend and pollute the working situation.”

Then a woman hit on Eric at the restaurant and asked him to take her out. He thought, “Why not?”

He gave it a try. Ericka called him on his cell phone several times to see if he was enjoying himself.

The time had come to move the relationship to another level.

“Here was this guy I loved to hang out with,” Ericka said. “He’s an intelligent guy. He reads books and watches foreign films with me.”

They were married April 24, 2006, at the Moon Palace, a resort south of Cancun, Mexico, with 30 guests present. “I had a dream wedding,” Ericka said, beaming. “The whole Sole was involved.”

When the Andreolis were expecting Aviendha, the inevitable question arose: Are you going to name her, say, Erin? Well, no. She’s named after a strong-willed character in Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, a favorite of Eric’s.

“Knowing the women in my life, it’s fitting,” Eric said with a grin.

The Andreolis, who live in Westboro, are expecting a boy on June 24. He will not be named Eric, they declared in unison.

As Eric lifted Aviendha over his head, eliciting a burst of giggles, Ericka momentarily pondered why their marriage works so well.

“I already knew Eric’s faults, and he knew mine,” she said. “Everything else came so naturally. I liked what he stood for. He was honest, intelligent and kind.”

As he put his daughter down, Eric added, “Life has been really good to me the last three years.”

“You never know,” his wife concluded. “We have this wonderful connection. I love him in every way.”

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: A workplace romance turned into marriage for Eric and Ericka Andreoli, who work at The Sole Proprietor in Worcester, where they met.

PHOTOG: ED COLLIER