Old Goucher’s Hooper House, damaged by fire, will soon be home to a restaurant serving New Orleans fare

Old Goucher’s Hooper House, damaged by fire, will soon be home to a restaurant serving New Orleans fare

A historic Old Goucher mansion damaged by fire last year is getting ready for a new chapter filled with po’ boys and étouffée.

The James E. Hooper House was home to artist studios and the Hooper House Gallery before a fire swept through in September 2022, ruining artwork, equipment and studio space. The building has been under renovation since then, said Old Goucher Community Association President Kelly Cross, and will soon welcome a New Orleans-style restaurant.

The dining spot will be run by family members Angola Selassie, Mahseeyahu Ben Selassie and Kokahva Zaudito-Selassie. Angola Selassie is the owner of Green House Juice Cafe, a vegan eatery two blocks from the Hooper House, and said the new restaurant will be an “all-inclusive” dining spot with a broad menu selection.

“Our ambition is to be able to provide an offering for every single person,” he said.

The restaurant is one component of a broader plan for the mansion that will also involve new artist studios, office space, indoor and outdoor bars, art installations and a courtyard with room for dining and community meetings. In total, there will be 19 businesses involved in the project, said Stephan Fogleman, an attorney who presented plans for the Hooper House to the liquor board on Thursday.

The Queen Anne-style mansion, built in 1886, stands on the corner of East 23rd and St. Paul streets. It was once the home of James E. Hooper, the president of William E. Hooper and Sons, a Jones Falls cotton mill.

The 2022 fire spread through the building’s roof and attic, causing extensive smoke damage, according to Cross. After the blaze, Matt Oppenheim, one of the Hooper House’s owners, vowed to bring the building back to life.

“The property was just starting to hit its stride after a lot of work by so many,” he wrote to the Sun at the time. “I am intent to build this property back in a way that honors its historic tradition and helps the affected community.”

Cross said plans to bring artist studios back to the building, as well as a dining spot and a vibrant outdoor space, will add to the central Baltimore neighborhood’s growing array of art and entertainment offerings. Old Goucher is also home to trendy bars like Dutch Courage and Fadensonnen, architecture and design firms, and coworking spaces like Co_Lab Workspace & Books. More projects are on the way, Cross said: “We’re starting to build out a cohesive area of interesting things.”

The restaurant will be on the Hooper House’s ground floor, and will occupy some of the courtyard space, as well. It will be named for Zedito-Selassie, also known as “Mama Koko,” a recently retired professor of literature, film and Afro-futurism at Coppin State University. In addition to her academic accolades, she also has a culinary past: Her first job in Baltimore was making soup.

Zedito-Selassie plans to be a hostess of sorts at Mama Koko’s, welcoming diners and checking in on the kitchen.

“I might be stirring some of the pots,” she said. She draws inspiration from Dooky Chase’s, the legendary family-owned Creole restaurant in New Orleans’s Tremé neighborhood, where her family also lived.

The restaurant will be a sit-down, white tablecloth spot that will serve bistro fare with a New Orleans theme like po’ boy sandwiches, étouffée and red beans and rice, as well as some continental African dishes, Zedito-Selassie said.

The eatery is aiming to open this spring.

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