Upstairs at the Elephant, a new speakeasy-style lounge on The Elephant’s second floor, opened this week.
Upstairs at the Elephant, a new speakeasy-style lounge on The Elephant’s second floor, opened this week.

The beautiful mid-19th century home of The Elephant restaurant is on the market, but the owners of the restaurant say nothing will change with their dining service as a result.

“The thinking is to keep things going just the way it has been without our guests and the community and employees seeing any change,” said co-owner Steven Rivelis.

The brick building, constructed in the 1850s by Congressman Benjamin Chew Howard, according to a history posted on the eatery’s website, was listed yesterday with an asking price of $2.9 million. Located in the heart of Mount Vernon, the home later served as the site of a furniture store in the mid-20th century and, most famously to local diners, the home of the Brass Elephant restaurant from the early 1980s until 2009.

VSOP LLC (which stands for Very Special Older Properties) bought the space in January 2015 and, according to the listing, fixed it up over 22 months at a cost of $3 million to open as something of a revival of its celebrated predecessor. The group that owns the Elephant, Pincus Restaurant Group, also operates Sascha’s Catering.

Rivelis, who also owns a part of VSOP, said the capital to renovate the mansion was raised through friends and family, who were assured they would be paid back, because no bank would give them a loan.

When representatives from Pincus went to banks for a traditional loan or mortgage after the renovation and successful opening of The Elephant, they were still turned down. So now the building has to be sold for his original investors to recoup their expenses.

The terms of a future lease for the restaurant would have to be negotiated with the future buyer, said Rivelis.

Rivelis has been very vocal about how banks are making it harder for small businesses to obtain capital. Last year, he spoke with Sun columnist Dan Rodricks after penning a letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh saying he was denied a loan by one banker who said the city is “a downward trend.”

“It seems we are on our own,” he wrote. “A real shame!”

Just yesterday, he testified in front of the Baltimore City Council during a hearing, called by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, on the lack of small business loans, and said the city doesn’t offer enough support, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

“Our own city doesn’t back us,” he said. “It’s a shame. It’s a crisis. I can go anywhere I want. I came here, lived here and worked here… We need your help, we need your creativity and we need your leadership.”

The council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee will have a series of roundtable discussions on small business lending in the coming months, per the BBJ.

In an interview with Baltimore Fishbowl, Rivelis pointed to a Johns Hopkins University study that found the number and size of small business loans has decreased, starting with the 2008 recession. Meanwhile, deposits from small businesses doubled in 2016.

“If the financial industry only wants to back things with no risk, then cities like Baltimore will struggle to thrive,” Rivelis said.

Even as ownership navigates the sale of the building, co-owner Mallory Staley said there have been huge crowds for Baltimore Restaurant Week, and the restaurant is planning to roll out its spring menu.

Noting The Elephant was named the state’s favorite new restaurant last year by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, she added, “We’re looking forward to many more years.”

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...