He grins as he talks about how good of a cook she is. Her sweet potato souffle is his favorite, so much so that he brings fresh pecans and sweet potatoes from south Georgia for her to make it, even though it takes her a week to whip up multiple batches.
She gazes lovingly at him when talking about how much they love spending time with each other, whether it’s sitting on the porch at their Acworth home or having dinner at a local restaurant.
Jeff and Ava Couey interact as if they are newlyweds, but today they are celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary. As they navigate the ups and downs of marriage, family and business, their love is steady.
Walk into any Sparkles Family Fun Center and you will see kids skating and dancing, playing games at the arcade or gearing up for laser tag. When Jeff walks into one of the four Sparkles locations, he sees a legacy.
“I grew up in the business,” he said. His parents, Leita Couey and the late Albert Couey, and uncle, the late Carl Couey, got into the roller rink business in 1959 when they opened the South Cobb Roller Rink in Mableton. The name has changed and Sparkles locations are now in Kennesaw, Hiram, Gwinnett and Smyrna.
In addition to the business, Jeff is a championship skater. In 1976, he was selected to represent the U.S. in a world meet for indoor rolling skating and won a gold medal. Decades later, he would win the heart of a woman named Ava.
“It was adult night,” Ava said as she recalled the night she met Jeff at a roller rink in the late 1990s.
When her favorite DJ moved from the Smyrna skating rink to Hiram, Ava and her friends followed him. It was at the DJ booth where Jeff and Ava were officially introduced.
“We would see each other in passing, but a friend of mine introduced us,” Ava said.
“Wow,” was Jeff’s first thought when he saw her. “It was awesome.”
The couple dated for nearly two years. On Valentine’s Day in 1999, Jeff and Ava went to dinner at the Sun Dial Restaurant at the Westin Hotel in downtown Atlanta.
Flowers were waiting for them at their table. In a fit of giggles, Ava said, “When we first sat down, I just thought all the tables had flowers. It didn’t dawn on me that he had them positioned there. He finally asked me, ‘What did you think about the flowers?’ They were pretty.”
They talked and ate while the waiters and surrounding diners, already aware of what was about to happen, watched. Jeff said, “I told her, ‘If you marry me, then you get to skate all the time.’”
This would not be the first marriage for either of them, but it would be a union no one would ever forget. Both Jeff and Ava had — and still have — and obvious love of skating, so Jeff thought it would be a good idea to not only get married at Sparkles, but to say their “I dos” on wheels.
“Jeff likes to be the center of attention,” Ava said, playfully teasing her husband. He shrugs his shoulders, saying, “She loved to skate. She grew up skating all the time.” Of their July 17, 1999, nuptials, Jeff said, “I wanted something different.”
To say Ava was hesitant would be an understatement: “I was really nervous about the dress and falling. I said to Jeff, ‘All it’s going to take is one time for our skate to hit a chair, and we are eating the floor!’”
The couple managed to stay on their feet, even through their dance to Shania Twain’s “From This Moment.” The pastor, however, took a spill at the rehearsal dinner.
Jeff said Ava is everything a man could want in a wife: “She’s a great wife, she’s a great person. A great mother. She is beautiful inside and out. We enjoy everything together.”
Ava said Jeff’s spirit and love for the Lord are her favorite things about him: “He’s very encouraging. He doesn’t get down. He’s always there to lift you up — with everybody, not just me.”
Today, skating is still a part of the couple’s lives. Jeff and Ava are not only life partners, but business partners as well.
“There’s so much, so many details. It’s 24/7,” Ava said. “We do really well at it. There are parts of the business Jeff takes care of, and those are his strengths. Then there are things I oversee, and it blends.”
Ava recalls how Jeff says the most successful skating facilities are a husband and wife team. However, the business can be overwhelming. Ava said, “There’s not a lot of downtime unless you leave town.”
And get away they do: Whether it’s dining at a local restaurant or traveling to Napa Valley, the Coueys treasure their time together and make doing so a priority.
They also enjoy spending time with their family. Both have children from previous marriages. Jeff’s sons are Michael, 29, and Clint, 23, and Ava’s son is Jacob, 24. Their grandchildren, Miley, 1½ and Caiden, 2½ will soon have another playmate, as another granddaughter is on the way.
“Blended marriages are a work in progress, but we work together,” Ava said. “That’s all that matters.”
With children, business and other occurrences in life, Jeff said some couples tend to forget about each other. However, he said putting faith first, then your spouse, will help everything fall into place.
“When I’m down, she lifts me up and vice-versa,” Jeff said. “Every day is a great day. We do everything we can to make it a great day.”