Biz New Orleans
Labors of Love, July 2017
BY PAMELA MARQUIS
Rev. Tony Talavera is 61 years old. During his lifetime he’s been an antique dealer, an acclaimed chef and a dealer in Las Vegas. He also spent five arduous years dying from Hepatitis C and liver failure.
On Halloween of 1989 Talavera had a liver transplant and died on the table. Thankfully, he was revived and in 2000 he used his second chance at life to become ordained as a reverend. Then he opened the French Quarter Wedding Chapel.
“I found my calling in the wedding industry,” he said. “I bring my heart and soul to this business. I’m helping couples create a memory that will last a lifetime. I’ll go to the ends of the earth to find what the couple needs for their perfect wedding. I really love what I do.”
The Wedding Report, which tracks data for the wedding industry, estimates by 2020 U.S. weddings could become a $61.8 billion a year industry. New Orleans hosts almost 9,100 weddings a year, the average New Orleans’ wedding cost $25,148 and total sales for those weddings is $228,746,208. It’s big business.
For 17 years in an 800-square-foot chapel on Burgundy Street and all around the city, Talavera has performed 15,000 weddings and is affectionately known as the Ambassador of Romance.
“I married Dick Cavett, two of Obama’s staff, and a Harlem Globetrotter but when people ask me what my favorite wedding is I always say, ‘It’s the the one I’m doing right now,’” he said. “Couples can go anywhere to be married so to be chosen to do their wedding is such an honor. I feel like a member of their family.”
His entry-level wedding is the “Short, Sweet and Hitched” It’s $200, lasts 20 minutes and will accommodate four guests.
“I was doing one recently and one of the couples’ grandparents arrived early. They were celebrating their 26th anniversary that day, so I renewed their vows right there. It’s never about the money, it’s always about love,” he said tears welling up in his eyes.
He officiates weddings all over the city and once married a couple right on Bourbon Street. He admits to being a bit of a PT Barnum because he always makes exciting things happen. He’s also recruited others to wed happy couples such as a voodoo priest, a vampire, a Wicken and even an Elvis.
“I am thrilled to marry anybody,” he said.
He’s also active in the politics of the industry. He lobbied Senate Bill SB565 (informally called the quickie wedding bill) in 2003 in cooperation with Senator John Hainkel, Senator Paulette Irons and Senator Diana Bourgeois. The bill allowed officiants exclusively in Orleans Parish to waive the 72-hour waiting fee.
According to Talavera, in Louisiana we make couples wait a long time to get a wedding license. Talavera said New Orleans has a unique story because New Orleans was a port city; sailors came here, got drunk, got married to licentious women and were taken advantage of. As a result of this scandalous behavior the ordinance came into effect.
“If one wished to marry in New Orleans, you had to apply for the marriage license 72 hours before the legal ceremony,” Talavera says. “I’ve worked tirelessly to change this outdated ordinance so that traveling couples and local elopers alike can act upon their romantic spontaneity and budgets, and marry with ease.”
Talavera is also the president of the Louisiana Wedding Association; its mission is to collectively promote the advancement of the Louisiana wedding industry. He’s currently working on more legislation to make Louisiana a premiere wedding destination.
“Here in Louisiana we should be doing a lot more of weddings,” he said. “It’s money for everyone involved and weddings are a blast.”