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Published: Tuesday, 4/12/2011

Downtown restaurant is labor of love

Tea's Luncheonette in the Spitzer Building on Madison Avenue is known for its Italian beef sandwiches, its Chicago hot dogs, its Polish sausage, and its fine homemade soups.

But hidden away behind those salads and those corned beef sandwiches is an unlikely story of love.

The restaurant is owned by Tom Weber and Tea Duduchava, who met four years ago on an Internet dating site. Mr. Weber was living in northwest Ohio. Ms. Duduchava was living in Tbilisi, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, an ancient country on the Black Sea between Russia and Turkey.

They had a language problem. Mr. Weber spoke English. Ms. Duduchava spoke Georgian, Russian, and German. She used a computer translation program to try to figure out what he said, and to respond. Mr. Weber first wrote to her, and he still remembers her response, word for word: "With pleasure I will speak to you if you can understand my bad English."

Mr. Weber was first struck by her picture on the Web site, a shot of her coming out of a church. She was embarrassed, because the picture was 2 1/2 years old, but Mr. Weber did not care: He showed the picture to a friend and said, "See that girl there? That's my future wife."

Soon they were communicating every day. When they began to feel a serious attachment, Ms. Duduchava started to take English lessons. But there was a problem: The Internet can be a notoriously unreliable way to meet people. Online, some people even lie about themselves.

"She thought I was a joker and I thought she might have been a man," said Mr. Weber. "You get a lot of crackpots on the Internet, and she had already heard from people who weren't serious."

So he did what anyone would do: He flew to Tbilisi. Without telling her. In fact, what he told her was that he was going to be away from the computer for a few days to take his mother to Florida.

She had no idea what was about to happen when he flew unannounced to Georgia and took a cab to 16 Chikovani, Apt. 38. It was late at night, so he slept on the porch. In the morning, he knocked on the door.

A man answered. He'd never heard of Tea Duduchava. Mr. Weber was stunned and bewildered. Eventually, he went to a convenience store, where the owner allowed him to use her computer. He went back through all his e-mails to find her address. It was 38 Chikovani, Apt. 16.

Oh.

Another taxi took him to the right door, and he knocked. Through the closed door, Ms. Duduchava asked who was there. "It's Tom," he said.

"I couldn't open. I was shocked," she said. "When I opened it, I was, of course, happy."

Ms. Duduchava brought all her family over to meet the man who had come all that way to meet her. And here is where they had a bit of a cultural issue. Mr. Weber thought he was just meeting her family. But in the way of their traditional country, Ms. Duduchava and her family were judging him to see if they approved of a marriage.

They did, but Mr. Weber did not immediately understand the implications of that. He thought he would go back to America, and she would come to visit him some day. But in Georgia, that isn't how things work. And it isn't necessarily how it works within the vagaries of the visa system, either. To make absolutely certain that she would be able to come to America, they had to be married. And so, after a whirlwind of activity, they were.

The ceremony was one week to the day after he arrived in Tbilisi.

When she arrived in this country, Ms. Duduchava brought with her spices from her native land. Mr. Weber was surprised, but he soon came to understand that Georgian spices taste different from American spices.

Quite literally, Ms. Duduchava adds a little bit of Georgia to her homemade soups at Tea's Luncheonette.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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