When Stephanie Ross moved from the city to Mineola, she entered a whole new world – and it wasn’t just laid-back replacing hair-on-fire.

What really floored the thirtysomething events planner was her social life. It was nowhere.
In the city, she’d dated within a wide circle of friends, but she hadn’t established such a circle on the Island. She was uncomfortable in bars and heard “horror stories about dating online.”

A friend told her about Great Date Now, a matchmaking outfit that recently established offices in Hauppauge and Garden City. Great Date Now takes the art of hooking up like-minded people seriously, Ross said, noting a professional matchmaker interviewed her and provided several options before setting up her first date.
She’s been out about six times now, and though she hasn’t met the man of her dreams yet, “I’ve had some lovely evenings, made friends and I’m learning the area.”

Great Date Now, which has seven other offices in the tri-state area, was founded by Gary Ferone, a former Wall Street broker and corporate headhunter who came up with the matchmaking notion after realizing that looking for his own dream mate had become a job in itself. The two Long Island locations, launched less than a year ago at a cost of about $100,000 per office, serve 1,200 clients so far, mostly professional people ages 30 to 55.
Profiles posted at online dating sites are rarely true, Ferone said, and online dating can be dangerous – his second wife encountered a man with stalker tendencies, Ferone noted, calling 15 times before the date and as many times after.

With Great Date Now, membership starts at $2,500 (and goes up, depending on the package) and clients are interviewed in person for as long as 90 minutes on likes, dislikes, past experiences and ultimate goals. There are background checks, both criminal and financial, and verifications of both age and past employment.
Other services provided, for extra fees, include time with a dating coach, an image consultant and a personal trainer.

The gathered information is dumped into a database, and that’s when professional matchmaker Dawn Tefel does her thing. Tefel said listening, paying attention and “having a huge joy in making a match” are the qualities needed for her profession.

Professional matchmaking goes back hundreds (if not thousands) of years and remains popular in India and Japan, according to Lisa Clampitt, co-founder of the Matchmaking Institute, which trains and certifies matchmakers like Tefel. In the past, matchmakers were family or church members, Clampitt said, but in this age of people getting married later and divorcing more often, new styles of getting cuddly have emerged.
“There’s been a huge surge in online dating, with about half of the single people in America going online at least once for a date,” she said.

But misinformation is rampant in the online dating world – about 10 percent of men hunting dates online are married, according to Clampitt. Personal, professional matchmaking, therefore, has become a $250 million industry in this country.

Great Date Now’s considerable fees have been worth every penny, according to elementary school teacher Nora Brown. The Garden City resident had one date with a man “who was nice” but nothing more, she said. Then she went out with Jason, a financial planner who is “athletic and has a great sense of humor.”
“We’ve definitely clicked,” Brown said.

Finding them a find, catching them a catch

Dolan Media, October 26, 2007