First Posted: 1/5/2014

It all began with sledding trips and hot chocolate.

John Costello remembers taking his children to Ah! Some Chocolates, 100 E. Overbrook Ave., Dallas, after chilly afternoons of sledding in the snow.

“They have the best hot chocolate,” he explained.

Then, one day in January, 2011, he learned something that would take him back to that address more often than for an occasional warm beverage on a cold winter day: the cafe in the rear of the building was available.

Costello and his best friend from high school, Bryant Belknap, realized their joint dream of owning a business, and took over the restaurant. Costello now manages the lunch hours, which are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and Belknap takes charge of the dinner menu, available from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Previously a car sales manager in the Philadelphia area for 30 years, Costello moved to the Back Mountain in 2006 when his wife, Bridget, began a teaching job at King’s College. When he opened The Brown Barn Cafe, he began to feel more like a part of the community.

“It’s not that people weren’t welcoming before,” he said, explaining he got to know them better through the business.

Knowing the people and serving them is what he loves most about doing business in the Back Mountain, although he enjoys every aspect of running the restaurant. He said on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, he savors the quiet time of preparing soups.

“Then,” he said, “I like it when we’re open and there’s people in here laughing and having a good time.”

The business is available to the community for a variety of events, such as showers and parties, and it also hosts regular events of its own. Costello said the regular kids cooking classes bring an especially “fun atmosphere” to the business. Recommended for children ages 5-12, the cost is $15 per child, and includes the opportunity for each student to make their own food from scratch. The next session is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 26.

Another popular event at The Brown Barn Cafe is its First Thursday dinner. Held the first Thursday of every month, it offers guests the opportunity to sample the new dinner menu, which changes each month. The cost is $20 per person and tables of at least four are required, due to the large amount of food served. The popular event is held in two seatings: 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Costello said First Thursdays are almost always full and guests often make reservations for the next month as they are leaving. He said the monthly changing dinner menu is one aspect which sets the business apart and keeps customers coming back.

“For people who come regularly,” he said, “that’s part of the appeal. It’s never the same stuff over and over again.”

Costello said another aspect which makes the food at The Brown Barn Cafe unique is that it is made from scratch in small batches for freshness. Even the bread for the sandwiches is baked in house. Both the lunch and dinner menus consist of an eclectic mix, including vegetarian and vegan options, traditional foods with a unique twist and various international dishes.

And the desserts, of course, come from Ah! Some Chocolates.

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