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Couple turns historic home into creative coffee house

Camellias on the Square. It’s the brightest building on the block so you can’t miss it and according to its owners, once you get a taste of the menu items, you won’t forget it.

Almost two months ago, owners David and Johanna Hancock finished renovating what is locally known as the “Curb House,” located across the street from the Perry County Courthouse.

“It took us two years to renovate it,” David said. “There is just so much in this area that shouldn’t just be torn down.”

“But we have an affinity for older houses and there’s a lot of history here,” Johanna added. “So we wanted to restore it rather than tear it down and rebuild.”

After the former New Jersey residents sped up plans to relocate shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, they moved to Marion for the city’s rich historic roots.

“We moved down here for the warmer climate and the old houses,” David said.

“We found Marion on the Internet,” Johanna said.

Although the outside of the home is now a bright yellow, David and Johanna kept the natural comfort of the “Curb House,” by leaving most of the wood inside the transformed home untouched, and using paints and colors to compliment and accent the 100-year-old building.

“We used colors similar to the ones they used in the period,” Johanna said. “And we used our own personal tastes to decorate it.”

David said the mint-green trim is signature of the home and, as he pointed out, traces of the original color could still be seen peeking through various sections of the wall.

In addition to the unusual combination of colors, the couple brings a menu full of items not native to the southern culture.

“Like our food, everything is natural,” David said of the wood-paneled rooms.

“For our lunches, we were sure to make everything quick, nutritional and pleasing to the eye,” Johanna added.

With a selection of wraps instead of sandwiches, poached breakfast sandwiches as opposed to fried ones and rotisserie meats, Camellias hopes to provide a healthier alternative to the fried foods many southerners are accustomed to.

“Our meats are all rotisserie, so most of the bad fats are gone by the time it reaches the customers,” David said.

With dual roles as owners and cooks, David and Johanna assure consumers the finest selection of meat products and baked goods.

“We have Alaskan salmon, which is hard to find in the stores,” he said. “And at times I order Norwegian salmon. I like to get the best of what I can.”

Also on the menu are pastries and an assortment of fresh-baked biscotti for breakfast, turkey club wraps — a customer favorite, roast beef wraps, soups and salads for lunch, and beef eye of round or roast loin of pork for dinner.

The menu changes with the time of day and the items vary, depending on David.

“We had a lobster ravioli special the other night,” Johanna said. “It was wonderful.”

The couple even caters events and rents space for parties for up to 60 people in the restaurant and 24 in the Tea Room.

Camellias also has a semi-private meeting room that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The caf/ features 16 flavors of coffee ranging from cappuccino to French vanilla and roasted safari nut to the unique Mars Magic, a blend of coffee and Mars Milky Way candy bar.

For the tea lovers, the caf/ has everything from Earl Grey and English Breakfast to exotic Chai and blueberry blast.

“All of our teas and coffees are freshly brewed and the water we use is double filtered,” David said.

And although the owners created Camellias as a family-oriented restaurant with an area where college students could come to get away, there is a room in the caf/ dedicated to the more daring guests.

One of the front rooms of the home has been transformed to Camellias Sweet Heat. The room features more than 124 varieties of hot sauces, from sweet and mild to hot and sinus clearing.

“I’ve loved hot sauces for a long time,” Johanna said. “And we are having a blast with the shop.”

“At first people would buy them as novelty items,” David said, “but then they were buying them because of their love for hot sauces.”

The shelves in the room are separated according to taste level. Categories include sweet, mild, hot, and hot, hot, hot. Behind the counter are sauces so fiery, people must sign a waiver before purchasing them.

“We get people coming in and they ask for the hottest hot sauce we have ad we give them one that’s about halfway and they say that’ll work,” David laughed. “We have hot sauces you can put on your ice cream up to the dangerous ones, which I don’t go near.”

To allow customers to test their heat limits before purchasing a sauce, David and Johanna have a tasting bar where customers can try their sauce of choice on a soup cracker.

Even though the Hancocks are still developing their business and clientele, they are satisfied with their endeavor so far.

“We are continuing to expand our hot sauces and we are going to finish the Tea Room to have high and low tea,” Johanna said. “We may change the menu a little according to what the people like.”

“But this is just a nice atmosphere for a special occasion and a family dinner,” David said. “The ladies call it fairy tale-like and enchanting and the men just like to be able to have their privacy.”