Tea for Two, Weddings for You
Wedding venues should have a touch of class, elegance, and grace. Uniqueness doesn’t hurt, either. The Backhouse Café Coffee & Tea in Williamsport has it all, and can accommodate bridal showers, bachelor or bachelorette parties, and intimate wedding receptions.
The café, located at 901 West Fourth Street, is in a late Victorian, Queen Anne-style home built in 1890. Amos Wagner built the home for Henry Johnson, who was a state legislator from Muncy, according to café owner June Wright. Johnson retired from his law practice in Muncy and moved into the home on what became known as Millionaires Row. Williamsport was once the “Lumber Capital of the World” and had more millionaires per person than any other city in the country. Most them resided on this stretch of West Fourth Street.
Henry Johnson, however, passed away five years after moving into the home. Upon his death, he left the home to his wife, six daughters, and female servants, June relates. “At the time that was very rare, to have a home run by women,” she says. The property subsequently changed hands several times; in recent years, a local orthodontist converted it into his office/practice facility.
“He retired in 2008 and he gave the building to the museum [the Thomas Taber Museum] with the idea that it would be a ‘women of the 1800s’ museum,” says Ron Wright, the other half of the husband and wife team that runs the café.
The Taber Museum renovated the home to bring it back to its original state. Two fireplaces, one in each parlor area, were restored, as was the woodwork in the small parlor room, which is now referred to as the tearoom. Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers, a company that specializes in vintage wallpaper designs, was used on walls throughout the house. On the other side of the café, the kitchen was restored to its original state. Most of the wood in the home is original. The large windows have wooden shutters, as was the custom during the Victorian era. One of the café’s most distinctive assets is the large wrap-around porch. Many café customers prefer it when the weather is nice, June says, and, with Historic Ways Garden across the street, the views are great.
The Wrights purchased the home from the museum in 2016 “for the sole purpose of having our coffee shop here,” says June, who previously owned a bridal shop. The café opened in August of 2018 after the Wrights made a few minor renovations of their own, including the installation of a custom-made coffee bar that matches the wainscoting.
Owning a coffee shop had been a dream for the couple for quite some time. Ron was involved in the pastry business when he was in his mid to late twenties, and notes, “I was just starting to learn about and develop my taste for coffee.” His love of coffee grew, and he dreamed of opening his own business. Ron eventually took on a job for a local company that involved travel. As he was out and about, he frequented coffee shops and began to learn about the business. At home, he patronized coffee shops, too. He particularly liked The Coffee and Tea Room, which was at the 200 block of West Fourth Street (the business is no longer open). With its use of furniture and coffee tables arranged as if it were a living room, he felt comfortable there.
In 2007, he and June got married, and the two decided that they wanted to have their own coffee shop. “I wanted to have a space that was very relaxing and homey,” he says. They began looking around Williamsport, but none had the particular feel they wanted. “We would’ve had to spend a lot of money to soften up a concrete shell,” Ron says. But, when they found out the Johnson Home was for sale, they knew it was the right place for them.
The Wrights named the shop The Backhouse Café, after the nickname they gave the carriage house they rented behind her daughter’s home in Williamsport’s Newberry section. Ron would often brew coffee for June and her daughter, Melanie (they use Kobrick Coffee Co. of Jersey City, New Jersey, as their supplier for the café. They are fourth generation small batch roasters, Ron says).
“One day when Melanie called the house, Ron answered and said ‘Backhouse Café’” June recalls. The café’s logo is now based on that carriage house.
The café has two parlors that can be rented by the hour. The large parlor can accommodate twenty-four, the smaller tearoom can accommodate up to twelve. The rooms have large wooden doors that can be shut for privacy. The entire café can also be rented and can accommodate forty individuals, but only on Sundays or outside of the shop’s business hours, June says. The front room has a beautiful fireplace that could be a good backdrop for anyone looking for a diminutive, intimate wedding space. The staircase to the second floor adjoins the room.
“I’ve always envisioned this would be a good space for a wedding—the parlor could be used for the reception,” June muses. “The bride could walk down the steps.”
Brides can, of course, have the colors and table favors to their liking. June says one of the recent bridal parties had table favors made of birdseed tucked into each napkin. The soon-to-be-marrieds may also pick from several menu options, and the Wrights can also accommodate if there is a special food needed or requested—like the fruit kabobs one bride wanted. The café has a baker who can take cake or cupcake requests, and brides and grooms may also opt to use outside catering.
The Backhouse Café Coffee & Tea is accepting reservations for spring events. Find them on Facebook or call (570) 567-7567.