February 21, 2024
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By  AMANDA YEAGER

The historic Old Goucher Mansion, damaged by fire in the past year, is preparing for a brand new chapter with po’ boys and etouffee.

James E. Hooper House housed artist studios, the Hooper House Gallery, and other studio spaces before it was destroyed by fire in September 2022. The artwork, studio space, and equipment were all destroyed. Old Goucher Community Association president Kelly Cross said that the building had been renovated since then and would soon be home to a New Orleans style restaurant.

Mama Koko will be managed by Angola Selassie Maseeyahu Bin Selassie Kokahva Zaidito-Selassie. Angola Selassie, the owner of Green House Juice Cafe – a vegan restaurant two blocks away from Hooper House – said that the new establishment will offer a wide range of food and be “all inclusive”.

He said, “Our aim is to have an offer for everyone.”

This restaurant is part of a larger plan to renovate the mansion, which will include new studios for artists, offices, bars indoors and outdoors, and art installations. There will also be a courtyard for community gatherings and dining. The project will involve 19 different businesses, according to Stephan Fogleman. He is an attorney and presented the plans of the Hooper House on Thursday.

Built in 1886, the Queen Anne style mansion stands at East 23rd Street and St. Paul Street. James E. Hooper was the former owner of the Jones Falls Cotton Mill, William E. Hooper and Sons.

According to Cross, the 2022 fire caused extensive smoke damage in both the attic and roof of this building. Matt Oppenheim, an owner of Hooper House, promised to restore the house after the fire.

He wrote at that time to The Sun, “The property had just begun to take off after so much work from many.” I am determined to rebuild this property in a manner that respects the historic traditions of its community and honors them.

Cross stated that plans to restore artist studios to the building as well as to create a restaurant and an outdoor area will enhance the growing art and entertainment options in the neighborhood. The Old Goucher neighborhood is home to bars such as Dutch Courage, Fadensonnen and Co_Lab Workspace & Books, along with architecture and design companies. Cross confirmed that more projects will be coming: “We are starting to create a cohesive space of interesting things.”

Angola Selassie stated that Mama Koko will be the very first food and drink offering from his family at Hooper House. He wrote that their vision includes “seasonally operating other food brands in the Hooper House indoor and outdoor areas.” There will be an opportunity to showcase pop-ups from other food brands.

It will be located on the ground floor of Hooper House, with a portion of its courtyard. The restaurant will be named after Zedito Selassie (also known as Mama Koko), a retired Coppin State University professor who taught literature, film, and Afrofuturism. She has an impressive academic background, but also a strong culinary one: her first job was to make soup in Baltimore.

Zedito Selassie will be the hostess at Mama Koko’s. She’ll welcome diners to her restaurant and keep an eye on things in the kitchen.

She said, “I could be stirring pots.” She takes inspiration from Dooky’s Creole Restaurant, a legendary, family-owned restaurant located in New Orleans’s Treme district, where she and her family lived.

Zedito Selassie revealed that the restaurant would be an upscale, sit-down spot with white tablecloths. It will offer bistro food in a New Orleans style, such as po’boy sandwiches, red beans and rice and etouffee, along with continental African cuisine.

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