Monday, January 22, 2007

Secure Speed Dating.

SAN LORENZO — Lisa Green of Livermore regularly comes to San Ramon's ShBoom Nightclub to dance.

"Usually, I have the whole dance floor to myself," she says.

But this Thursday night, the nightclub-restaurant is full of mingling singles mostly ages

35 to 55.

The 46-year-old bookkeeper and divorced mother of 24- and 26-year-old daughters came especially for the speed-dating singles party thrown by San Lorenzo-based Wing A Daters, held the second Thursday of every month.

The dance floor sparkled as 10 tables of men and women chatted off to the side, under posters of the Commodores, the Eagles, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Matt Delima, Wing A Daters co-owner, calls for a speed-dating switch through the DJ's microphone.

"Don't make me come out there," he says.

For a $5 entry fee, the singles get to know each other for five to 10 minutes before moving on. Every participant also wins a prize, such as a restaurant gift certificate or a coupon to a day spa.

The party is one of many services offered by Wing A Daters, started in 2004 by San Lorenzo residents Delima, 28, and Justin Wong, 29, Cal State East Bay graduates and friends since middle school. Delima has a bachelor's degree in communication and Wong a master's in business.

In the two years since they started the business, it has grown and diversified into a one-stop shop for all types of dating styles. They started with "wingmen" and "wingwomen" — partners who, forone evening, coach a client in techniques on how to meet and break the ice with a stranger.

"It's a scary experience," Wong said. "It can blow someone's whole night. You will approach someone and wish you could have said something."

Ninety percent of the time, a wingwoman helps a guy out.

"Women are just more outgoing," Delima said. "They take more initiative."

The dynamic pair play to their strengths in running WingA Daters. Wong, who works full time in San Francisco in financial services, handles the operational side. He designs the changes on the Web site, maintains contracts and fields e-mails.

He also keeps a detailed database of more than 5,000 singles from information gathered at singles events.

After going through the dot-com boom and bust with corporate America, Wong added, "We'd rather work for ourselves."

Delima worked in ad sales for Clear Channel Radio, but stopped three months ago to devote himself full time to Wing A Daters, establishing business contacts and now also arranging blind dates.

Having tried several online dating services, Annemarie House, 38, was at ShBoom after going on a blind date two days earlier, set up by Delima.

"I have a list," the dance teacher said, when asked what she is looking for in a partner. "I'm thinking with a more personal touch; he (Delima) hasn't put me with someone that doesn't fit that. He listens to me."

House was married for 10 years and now raises two children on her own.

Almost pinching her fingers together, she added, "I don't have time to fool around."

Hopefuls fill out a 50-question dating profile and usually meet at a caf before they decide to go to dinner.

House's most recent date was with Tim Moreno, 50, who was also at Thursday's party and said they had exchanged phone numbers.

"It is very locally concentrated. Other services meet people far away," Moreno said, explaining what attracted him to Wing A Daters.

Divorced for 12 years, he only occasionally goes out to meet people.

"To meet people by chance at the grocery store, you have to take an aggressive approach," he said. "There's so many people in this area and I want to meet them. I'm going to have a good time meeting good, quality people."

Ben Esposo, a nightclub DJ for 20 years, kept the energy up at ShBoom with music from the 1970s to today.

"ShBoom is geared toward old-fashioned fun for grown-ups," he said. "This is good to get something fun happening in here on a weeknight, rather than wait until the weekend."

The club is affiliated with other hot spots in Pleasanton and San Francisco, which also are partnered with Wing A Daters.

In the past four months, Delima and Wong have sold 150 membership cards. At $50 each, the card pays for itself by getting singles free cover charges at clubs, as well as discounts at more than 25 local businesses.

"We've checked out each place and see that it has a friendly atmosphere," Delima said. "A lot of people were asking us, 'Where can I go?'"

These are dating-oriented businesses, such as low-key, family-owned restaurants with good food and an atmosphere quiet enough to talk, or salons where people can prepare for a date. The businesses are linked to the Wing A Daters Web site. Delima and Wong also help businesses without Web sites build one.

Loretta Brown, 48, of Livermore, came for the speed-dating after frustration with dishonesty in online groups.

"You have a one-on-one and you have eye contact and can figure out if you have chemistry," she said. "There are a lot of people our age looking for people. This is wonderful."

Wing A Daters parties usually draw about 200 singles. The service does not discriminate by age or sexual orientation, and plans to eventually throw a gay speed-dating party.

"Yeah, I'll set you up with a wingman," Delima said. "I'll hook anyone up."

Dirty Speed Dating