In a strip mall on Lakewood Avenue at Briggsmore in Modesto, a shopper can buy insurance, do laundry, visit a salon, get a snack at Quik Stop and, now, make another quick stop – for fun, romance and possibly true love.
In a previously empty storefront there, Robert Richardson has opened the Within Reach speed-dating cafe. The first gathering was Thursday evening.
Why invest in the overhead of running a brick-and-mortar business rather than stay mobile, like many speed-dating services? To provide a better experience to a broader group of people, Richardson said.
Most speed-dating services rent out space in bars or nightclubs, he said, but many singles don’t feel comfortable in those locales, or won’t go to them for religious reasons. At Within Reach, with its dozen cafe tables, a fountain, an electric fireplace and a beverage bar, his aim is to create an attractive, comfortable and safe place for people to meet, Richardson said.
You get to see them face to face. That’s why it’s called Within Reach.
Speed dating, in general, is wiser than online dating, he said, because it’s “face to face, and you don’t have to worry about getting catfished (deceived by a fictional online persona). You listen to your inner voice and your eyes and heart in a safe and beautiful environment. It cuts out a lot of the craziness.”
Keeping it safe includes keeping it sober, he said, so the bar serves juices, iced coffees, soft drinks, mocktails and nonalcoholic wines and beers.
As another measure, no contact information or even names are exchanged among the speed daters. On a typical night, Richardson said, 10 to 12 women will sit at numbered tables while an equal number of men with numbered badges make the rounds. Depending on attendance, a dater can expect five to eight minutes with each of his or her possible matches.
At the close of the evening, Man No. 8 might tell the Within Reach staff he likes Women 3, 5 and 6, while Woman No. 5 might say she likes Men 1, 4, 8 and 11. Boom – there’s a match. Within 24 hours, daters who find matches will be emailed the names and contact information for those others.
One upcoming event theme: “Men 6 feet and over – For the single lady who is looking for a tall fella.”
When two people clearly hit it off with each other, they’re of course free to do as they choose once they leave Within Reach, Richardson said. But – again, for safety’s sake – he’ll discourage daters from exchanging information the minute they’re in the parking lot.
Within Reach is for people age 21 and older. Different nights are aimed toward various age groups – ones on the calendar now are for ages 35-45 and 28-40. A “Seasoned Person Mingle” set for Sunday afternoon is for ages 45-60.
Other themed events also are lined up. May 11 will be “Cowboy and Cowgirl: For the rough and rugged male and the single woman who loves her cowboy boots.” May 13 is “African American Singles” night. There are gatherings catered toward everything from jazz lovers and sports fans to old-movie buffs, the fitness-minded and intellectuals.
Richardson said another idea is a night for those into tattoos and piercings.
When I was single, I went on blind dates, including some that I couldn’t get them home fast enough.
Robert Richardson, on speed dating being the way to go
Not to say that only blacks are welcome at African American Singles night, he assured. “There are people of different races who are attracted to African-Americans, and vice versa,” he said. “Oftentimes, people are single because they have a whole list of dos and don’ts. We encourage people to come with open minds. Maybe you’re looking for a tall man and fall for a short one. Maybe you’re seeking a rich Latino and find a mid-income Caucasian.”
Richardson said he intends Within Reach to serve the entire community, including the able-bodied and disabled alike, straight and gay, and more.
All speed-dating events are priced at $35, Richardson said. Other special singles events and seminars and workshops he plans – bringing in experts on financial planning, child-rearing, relationships, etc. – will vary in price.
Richardson is a pastor, but said starting a business that gives folks a safe way to get together has little to do with that. “Actually, how I started was my mother died when I was 8 and my father never remarried, and I saw him alone and with no love in his life.”
On the Within Reach website, withinreach.love, he writes: “I and my staff have pledged that no one should be without companionship, friendship or love.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327