Denise Sarpong-Johnson’s Secret Sauce: How She Creates Unique Weddings in DC Metro Area

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a wedding truly unique? Look no further than Denise Sarpong-Johnson!

When it comes to planning your wedding, you want to make sure that it is memorable and unique.
Planning a wedding is an event that will be remembered for years to come. By adding personalized touches or creating a special atmosphere for the occasion, you can ensure that your wedding is an unforgettable affair.

Not only will it make the day special for you and your partner, but also create lasting memories for all of your guests as well. With careful planning and creative expression, you can create a day that will never be forgotten! Therefore, it is important to make sure that your special day is truly unique and one-of-a-kind.

In this episode, Denise Sarpong-Johnson will share her unique approach that will help you make your wedding stand out from the rest as she specializes in hand-lettered custom calligraphy, which will add a personal touch to your event. She also knows how to create an unforgettable experience for her clients, so you can relax and enjoy your big day!


Gillian de Souza: Welcome to DC Weddings with Gillian. Today, we have Denise Sarpong-Johnson of UMBER bride&groom & Events. And you are going to be surprised by the very unique processes that she has to share with her brides and grooms. Things that you won’t get with any other wedding planner in the DC Metro area. So here we are, Denise Sarpong-Johnson.

Hello again! This is Gillian with Caribbean Caterers. Welcome to DC Weddings with Gillian. I have a special treat for us here. We have today, the indomitable, Denise Sarpong-Johnson and she is the owner director of UMBER bride&groom & Events and she is an event planner here in the DC area and she also is a calligrapher. So hi, Denise!

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Hi, everybody! 

Gillian de Souza: It is a pleasure to chat with you and to bring to our audience all of the great things that I know you do for your clients. So we just gonna have a little chit chat about what you do for your clients. And I’m just gonna leave with a few questions, but as we always do as we chat, just tell us what you would like us to know about you and your business.

So, how did your journey, particularly in the wedding industry begin?

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Oh, wow. When I was planning my wedding back in — I got married in 2011. There was no Pinterest, right? So I had to look through magazines, blogs, things like that to get ideas about gowns that I wanted, such as things like that.

And while I was browsing, I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see images that had me in them or my husband in them. And so that got me to think, and I’m like, “Why don’t I see more of people like me?” And that really bothered me as I got closer to my wedding. So after I got married, I decided, “You know what, I’m going to try to do something about it.”

So I decided that I was gonna learn everything and anything having to do with weddings. And I learned all the etiquette, the do’s and don’ts and planning, timeline, all the things. And then I’m like, “Well, what am I gonna do with this? Am I gonna be a blogger? What am I gonna do?”

So I decided to be a planner because I wanted people who were deciding to get married to see more people like me in the industry. And if more people like me came into the industry, then we would see more people being published on blogs and things like that. So that’s why I started.

Gillian de Souza: Very good! You found a need in the market and you filled it. Fantastic! Now that you then got into this wedding industry sort of by default from planning your own wedding. What now you’ve been doing this for what 10, 12, almost 12 years now? 

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Yeah.

Gillian de Souza: What about this wedding industry that brings you joy?

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Oh my God! Even after all these years, what I love the most is when I see the bride procession in or enter the space and the look in her eyes and the look in her partner’s eyes as they like, they join eye contact. And every time I see this, I cry. I try not to show a lot of tears, but it always tears me up.

So just that act of so much love between the two, especially when it exudes from them, it just brings me so much joy to finally see them become one. That’s my best part. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! So let’s stand there for a moment. What do you do? If you can pinpoint some things that you do in your business for your brides and grooms that help bring them to that moment.

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: My motto for my business is enjoy your moment and enjoy the experience. So from day one, I want my couples to be relaxed. I want them to enjoy it, to savor every moment. Good and bad. There’s some bad stuff that happens. There’s some stressful things that happens, but in between all of that, and even as it’s going on, there are moments that you’ll never get to repeat again.

Hopefully not. And I always tell them, take the time to just take it all in when you go and pick that dress out, those shoes, when you have the different parties and events with your family and your friends and when you’re talking to them, just savor those moments. And then especially on the day, I don’t care how you’re feeling.

Just sit back and just try to look around you for a moment and take it all in, cuz again, it will never happen again. If you do that, if you just start thinking about that by the time your day comes, then you’ll take that moment even if it’s one minute and just look around you and like, “Oh my God!”

That’s my thing. I want people to enjoy it, not to just go through it, go through the motions. And then they’re like, “Oh my God! It’s over. What’s next? I don’t remember anything.” So enjoy your moment and enjoy the experience. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! And so, tell me about some of your favorite couples, that one moment when they look through your eyes and they have that moment. And I know for most of us in the wedding industry, we really can’t pinpoint a favorite couple because there’s so many of them, but maybe a special thing that happened that kind of encapsulated what you want to do for your wedding, or maybe something you unique that you’ve never experienced before that you can bring to the table for your clients.

Have you experienced anything like that with any of the weddings that you have planned? 

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: I think the best moment I had was with a client, with a couple, this was in 2018. And it was a regular wedding or an event. They were super nice. They were really sweet couple that was different, but I think one or two weeks before their big day, the bride pulls me aside and she says, “As you know, I’m pregnant.” And I actually didn’t really know. I couldn’t tell. But then when she said it, it confirmed it. Cause I didn’t wanna ask her. “So as you know, I’m pregnant and we’re having a baby and I just decided to do a reveal.” I’m like, “What? Okay.” And this is like one or two weeks before the wedding.

And I’m like, “Okay.” And she said, “And on top of that, it’s a surprise. A surprise for everyone, including him.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So, I usually work with my sister and I’m the organizer, the planner, I give some ideas for design, but she’s the designer. And she’s the one that stays more calm, I think, than I do.

I told her everything and I’m like, “Okay, I want you to take that envelope and I want you to hold it.” It was two actually, “I want you to take care of it. I want you to hold it and you give me the one that I need to give to her.” Cause I didn’t wanna mess it up. But, it was so awesome.

People were so freaking surprised. They’re like, “Oh my God! A reveal! And it’s a girl!” It was the most beautiful moment. I don’t think it was so much that it was a reveal. It was that it was a surprise for everyone. And I had to keep it a surprise and I’m the one known in my family for kinda — it slips out sometimes but it was precious. Jamica and Noel, they were really cool couple. For them to make me a part of their surprise reveal, for her to do that was super awesome. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! Talk about moments that you make memorable moments forever and ever, correct? And to be a part of that is super super special. Fantastic! Wonderful, my dear!

We’ve just — I would like to say — have come through the pandemic. We’re still dealing with some things, but we’ve come through the heavy part and we’ve all had to make lots of changes. Can you tell us about a change that you have made in your business, your business model to help serve your clients better?

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: One thing that I’ve done, just like everyone else. Well, I won’t say everyone, but in order to protect myself and my company and also to keep the couple informed on what’s going on as far as the protocols are concerned, I made sure to include that in the contract, a paragraph that I’m watching and keeping track of the protocol for the DC area.

I mean, in our area, we have to know what’s going on in DC, Maryland, and Virginia on top of the local or county protocols. It’s like a juggling game, especially back in 2021. It was a little crazy, but that was a way of them feeling confident that I’m aware, that I’m informed and I’m keeping them informed because it allowed them to make better decisions, especially when it came to whether you want to enforce mask or not, whether you want to have a buffet versus a plated meal. And if you decide on buffet, which was the preferred method, then what’s the best way to actually serve. Allow them to hold the handle, which sometimes we do or them be served. One thing I did was — it was a juggling act, but to stay informed on all those different guidelines that were pushed down at the federal state and local levels. And a lot of them appreciated because they didn’t have to do it. I took care of that for them.

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! Fantastic! So hopefully we are on the other side of that, and that has slowed down a little bit and people can relax a little bit more. So if you had to give one tip and we are still talking weddings here to a couple.

You had to give one tip to them about working with you. Something that they should know or something that you would want to inform them about before working with you. What might that be?

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: The one tip would be to have more than one date in mind. A lot of times by the time — I get to clients in different, you know, sometimes it’s six months, eight months. Sometimes it’s a couple years away from their date. Some couples are so honed in on this one date because it’s special and it means something, it’s momentous, but they also want this certain venue, and when they don’t collide, when they don’t meet, then they’re like, “Oh my God. Now, what am I gonna do?”

So before they go to that meeting, they need to have at least two dates in mind in case the one that they prefer doesn’t work out. And most people by the time they come to me, they find, “Oh, I can’t.” They tell me the story. I had to switch maybe a couple of times, or I really wanted this venue, but they didn’t have the date.

And I didn’t know what to do. So always have at least two dates in mind so that you can be more prepared when you try to do your research for your venue. 

Gillian de Souza: So I happen to know that you do other things for your brides and grooms, other than wedding and event planning. Tell us about some of your other skills.

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Oh, that is my line of service for giving, providing calligraphy services. So because of the pandemic, work wasn’t consistent for a lot of us back in 2020 and some for even 2021. So I decided to try to come up with another line of service, just to fill in that gap. And I’m an avid calligrapher for years.

I was doing it for me and learning all about it, but then decided, “Okay, maybe I should add this as a paid service.” And so that’s what I did. My focus is on signage. So I create different types of signs using different mediums, wood mirror, ornate, casual, acrylic, any surface that you think you need for your particular event. 

I provide the materials or the client can provide it. And I hand letter welcome signs, seating charts, anything you might need when it comes to signage throughout your event. Escort cards, escort displays, anything that needs lettering. One thing that people don’t realize, and what they’re finding is that personalization, when someone sees their name on something, not printed by a machine, but hand lettered, then it makes it even more special.

And it makes your space even more special. So that’s one of the things I offer. It’s kind of odd when I tell people that I do that. “You also do that. Oh my God! It’s so pretty.” But, that’s what makes me different and unique from other people in the same field. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! Your point about personalization of not just a printed in handwriting sort of script but that you can tell that it is actually handwritten does make a difference to guests. We’ve all been to the event with the papers that you throw out. I keep them around for a little while, then you throw them out. But once your name is on something handwritten you tend to keep it and you have that memory from your client’s wedding. So that serves your client really well and then serves your client’s guests really well.

So I don’t find it odd at all. I find it a very natural sort of extension and then something that’s extra special that you can offer your brides and groom that they can’t get with another wedding planner. They have to hire another service to do that. So that is wonderful. Yes, fantastic!

Alright. Any parting words? What would you like our audience to know about you? Denise Sarpong-Johnson and UMBER bride&groom & Events. Is there something other than what we’ve talked about that you would just want people to know about you and working with you?

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: One thing that also makes me different and I think that will allow your event to go smoother is that I use a paperless process where everything I do is on my device. I don’t like having paper and clipboards and big laptops, cuz they get lost and you end up with paper everywhere, but throughout the entire process, it’s paperless. We’re working with files, we’re working in a system where you can keep everything in one place. And even on the day-of, you get a timeline from me. It’s totally paperless. So that’s the one thing that I would say about UMBER bride&groom & Events. 

Gillian de Souza: Fantastic! There are little things that people may take for granted that are very useful. Being able to have everything all in one place on your phone that you can share with a bridesmaid or your groom or your parents or so, and that is all encompassing it’s something that someone can easily take for granted, but it’s something that saves a lot, is very convenient and then you have it for life because you have that file save forever.

You can always return and say, “What was that menu we had again?” And it’s all there as a keepsake. That’s very interesting. Very nice! So we have learned quite a number of things that make you unique to your clients. So thank you so much for that. 

So folks, we have been talking with Denise Sarpong-Johnson and she is owner of UMBER bride&groom & Events. And we are happy to have her. Thank you so much, Denise!

Denise Sarpong-Johnson: Thank you! Thank you for the opportunity, Gillian. 

Gillian de Souza: You’re very welcome.

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