LAKEVIEW — Greg Gibbs and Dalia Awdisho's love grew out of a fire.
Even though employees at both shops had encouraged the two to meet, Awdisho, 28, and Gibbs, 41, had never crossed paths.
The fire, they say, brought them together. The morning after it happened, Awdisho went down to Gibbs' sandwich shop for the first time. She was in tears. She had just been told that it would take months to reopen. She needed to use a restroom, and since hers was "destroyed," she was told to try Gibbs' downstairs.
"I knew right when I walked in," she said. "I was like, 'Wow. This is the guy I'm going to be with the rest of my life.' "
Ten days later, they were dating. Four months later, they moved into a place in Lincoln Park together. And seven months after the fire, near the baggage claim in O'Hare, Gibbs asked Awdisho to marry him.
She said "yes."
"The fire changed our lives," Gibbs said. "It was destined to happen."
While the fire brought the couple together, it stressed them out, too.
Awdisho's phone lines burned out, and her electricity was turned off. The first days of their relationship were spent working side-by-side on the Chicago Bagel Authority counter as they tried to pull their businesses out of the ashes.
Awdisho sporadically burst into tears from the shock and stress. Gibbs, "emotionally exhausted" himself, took comfort in taking care of Awdisho.
They vented to each other. They both dealt with the same issues regarding insurance, the landlord and employees. And when one got frustrated, the other pointed out the positive side.
"It felt like I was in college, studying at the library," Awdisho said. "What are you doing now? What are you working on now?"
The emotional rollercoaster of dealing with a fire made their first two dates — which otherwise might have been deemed disasters — seem funny.
Date one wasn't planned. Awdisho had suggested they go out before, but with all the drama of the fire, Gibbs suggested the two "take things slowly."
It was during the walk back to the parking lot, beneath the Belmont "L," when things changed. They kissed for the first time.
"That was definitely the moment," Gibbs said. "We said, 'All right. This is it.'"
But when they got to the parking lot, Gibbs' car wasn't there. He'd forgotten to move the parking permit from a different car, and it got towed. The two spent the rest of the "date" getting to the towing company.
"We were laughing all the way to the tow truck place," Gibbs said.
"This is nothing compared to what we just went through," Awdisho said.
"Natural disasters and stuff" followed the couple around, they said. Date two was a trip to Ikea in Schaumburg, where all of a sudden there were tornado warnings. They walked into the store soaking wet from rain, and Gibbs spent a half-hour with his head under the hand dryer in the bathroom.
"Even then, we were still giddy and happy and had so much fun," Awdisho said.
They soon were going on road trips and meeting each other's families as they played the waiting game with insurance companies. In April, Awdisho went to Australia for four weeks to visit family, the first time they'd been apart since the fire. Gibbs couldn't stand the separation. He told his parents he was going to ask her to marry him.
"Their response was, 'What took you so long?' " he said.
He met her at O'Hare and asked right then. They plan to marry next year on a still-to-be-determined date with a small wedding.
The love is the "silver lining" in the mess of the fire, Gibbs said. Chicago Bagel Authority's Belmont location did not reopen until last week, meaning nearly 10 months of closure when he relied on the store's Armitage location. Awdisho is still playing the waiting game with Milios, which sustained more damage. She's hoping for an October opening.
Awdisho still gets emotional and frustrated about the fire. But knowing that it brought the two of them together leaves her "speechless," she said.
"I feel so blessed to have met him," she said, "that the feeling makes me forget about the tragedy that happened upstairs."