With the auction of its historic home base now called off, the operators of Mount Vernon’s The Elephant restaurant say their business is safe and can remain open after all.
The elegant eatery at 924 N. Charles St., announced the news in a Facebook post this morning, saying it’s remaining open with help from “strong and strategic legal representation” and community support. The post pointedly quoted a Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t realize we were seeds.”
Co-owner Steven Rivelis confirmed they’ve avoided having their building auctioned off by filing for bankruptcy, which he called “a total restructuring.’
“We now see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train coming at us,” Rivelis said today. “We’re beyond delighted that our fans and our supporters encouraged us to hang in there long enough to get to this stage so that we could get back to providing the culinary experience that people have known to expect from us over the last three years.”
To recap this saga: The Elephant’s operators originally announced their building was for sale in January, but said the business would remain open regardless of the property potentially changing hands.
In March, they delivered the update that their last night would be March 23 after they couldn’t secure a bank loan to pay back investors, one of whom they said was “taking legal action to literally take the property from us.”
Days later yet another announcement came that they’d actually be staying open partially, Thursday through Saturday, for the month of April, as they attempted to raise money before their property went to auction on May 1 (today).
Federal court records indicate James Hickman, of Fairfax County, last year sued the Rivelises, property owner VSOP LLC (which Rivelis co-owns), and the company that operates The Elephant, Pincus Restaurant Group, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment and other civil charges. Hickman was seeking $900,000, which he said was his original investment.
At the advice of patrons who Rivelis said advised them to “fight,” The Elephant’s operators ambitiously sought to raise $600,000 via a GoFundMe campaign to help buy out Hickman and avoid the auction. Rivelis acknowledged today that it was “probably a high bar to set” and that they’d never launched a crowdfunding campaign, but “we said, Sure, let’s see what happens.”
The campaign raised about 1 percent of that total from about 50 donors—for whom Rivelis noted he was thankful—but thanks to some “additional energy from our legal representatives,” Rivelis said the auction was called off this morning.
“We now have a path forward where we believe that we’ll be able to have all the parties be able to find a win-win opportunity,” he said, “and will, as a result, be able to keep the restaurant in operation and keep the property in operation as well.”
Both sides are set to go to mediation in late September, court records show.
The Rivelises and co-owner Mallory Staley spent two years restoring the mid-19th century rowhouse before the restaurant opened in 2016, investing around $3 million and retaining original architectural elements. It previously served as the site of a furniture store in the mid-20th century and, best known to local diners, the home of the Brass Elephant restaurant from the early 1980s until 2009.
The Elephant has drawn a loyal following and accolades during its three-year run, including being named Maryland’s New Favorite Restaurant by the state’s restaurant association last year.