SPOKANE, Wash. - For decades, a downtown Spokane restaurant has hidden a secret. Specifically, hundreds of love letters, scrawled on white paper napkins, ready for anyone to read.
Even most of the regulars at Europa Restaurant and Bakery have no idea about this tradition that started many years ago. But, all they have to do is open one of three drawers in the restaurant's lounge and they would find love stories, dating back years.
"Sometimes people have been sent here by a friend or family member," said Aja Engels, who owns Europa with her husband. "But, generally, hey just happen to get a little nosy and open up the drawer and find 100 notes in there."
Engels worked as a server at Europa long before she knew about the love notes. One day, a customer asked her for a pen and napkin and she saw him add his note in the drawer.
The notes tell stories of romantic love, mostly. Some are new beginnings and confessions, laid bare for strangers to read.
"I came here with my friend tonight and he doesn't know I love him so much," reads one ink-smeared note.
Others tell stories of first dates and anniversaries and love stories that began in these very booths.
"We met 11 years ago in the corner booth," one woman writes. "I never imagined I would become Mrs. Cunningham. But, today it happened!"
There are heart-wrenching stories, too.
"My husband and I have been together almost 25 years," reads a letter signed B & J Reed. "Heading to Seattle tomorrow to see if he can get on the transplant list. Hoping for 25 years together."
You could get lost in the love stories and spend an afternoon here, reading through drawers and baskets full of confessions and celebrations.
"They range from romantic to love poems," said Engels. "Then, they go to 'I'm out for a great night with my friends' to 'we just got engaged.'"
They're not all sweet; Engels said they have to edit out what's inappropriate. And, there's an occasional mystery of which you'd rather not be a part.
"I was ready to tell him the baby isn't his," reads one such note. "But, his manicotti burnt the roof of his mouth and he's just so upset. So, not tonight."
Engels' favorites are the stories that come full-circle right in their dining room.
"Our first date: 3/25/06. Our tenth anniversary: 3/25/16," reads one. "Thank you for being the restaurant every year, first to last."
Engels said they don't advertise the notes, though it would certainly bring customers in. She loves that the range of emotion reflects exactly what their restaurant wants to be: romantic for couples, exciting for singles and perfect for families, too. And, as one letter reflects, a part of the Spokane community.
"Dear Spokane," one letter begins. "I will miss you much more than I thought I would when I found out I would be moving six months ago... This is a place where you can find a restaurant and find a drawer full of memories, dreams and musings."
Europa welcomes guests who want to write their own and add to the tradition. Or, come in, grab dessert and settle in for the afternoon. Either way, it may remind you that love stories are everywhere, including, sometimes, under your plate of chicken marsala.
For more ways to tell your Spokane love story, visit this page from Visit Spokane.