The Black Olive Restaurant sits in quaint elegance on the cobblestone section of Bond Street in old Fells Point. Though the restaurant itself is only a few years old, the spirit from which it springs holds a story that stretches through multiple generations. The restaurant is owned by the Spiliadis family, whose passion for food as art is grounded in a basic aesthetic principle: cook your food with an eye towards simplicity and tradition, and use only the finest ingredients, no matter what it takes to find them.
The story of the Black Olive begins in Northern Greece, over a century ago, when a family who for generations had been notorious for their good cooking and unabashed hospitality, made a trek to Istanbul, Turkey, where many Greeks were living and doing business. The family built a hotel and restaurant on the coast of the Black Sea, and the business bloomed. The stories of those days, at the turn of the century, are still conjured up at family gatherings, and one can imagine the bustling city of Istanbul, a crossroads of culture and history, the busy hotel and restaurant, the sea, the smells, the laughter and shouts echoing. One story tells of how the sea became rough one day, as a storm approached, and as the waves became higher and higher, fish suddenly began to be hurled onto the beach by powerful waves. Everyone rushed down to the beach gathering as many fish as they could hold, carried them up to the hotel (for it was common knowledge that no one could prepare a fish better, and commenced with a feast and celebration that lasted for days.
When the Greeks were forced out of Turkey in the 1920’s, the family moved back to Greece, and eventually opened up a taverna in the city of Patras. The notoriety of Spiliadis cooking continued and grew, and many of the same recipes used at the Black Olive Restaurant today were cultivated and honed in those years. In 1956, Stelios Spiliadis, the grandson of the original Istanbul hotel owners, came to New York to attend Columbia University, where he studied philosophy, working at the Sheepshead Bay restaurants, waiting tables to pay the rent. After graduating from Columbia, he moved to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins University, and when a pretty young librarian there charged him for an overdue book, he offered to take her out on a date instead. She agreed, and before too long they were married. In 1967, Stelios and Pauline had their first son, Andreas, and in 1970, Dimitris came along.
Stelios’ younger brother, Costas, had also come from Greece to Baltimore, where he stayed for a while before moving to Montreal, Canada, to attend McGill University. Stelios became a social worker and Pauline continued working in libraries, but Costas decided to carry on the family tradition and opened up the now famous Milos Restaurant in Montreal. Stelios and Pauline, meanwhile, honed their cooking skills at private parties thrown for any and every occasion, and their friends continually urged them to open up a restaurant. The spark of this idea intrigued their youngest son, Dimitris, and during the summers of his college years, he interned at his uncle’s restaurant, learning the trade and getting his feet wet in the business. It was his early initiatives that would serve as the catalyst for what has become the Black Olive Restaurant.
Renovations In Fells Point
In 1994, Dimitris renovated a row house in historic Fells Point, finding out as he uncovered layer upon layer of wallpaper and floor tiles that the house was over two hundred years old. The project caught the interest of the whole family and soon the idea of renovating a nearby row house on Bond Street to turn into a restaurant became a reality. In March of 1997, the renovations of the Original Fells Point General Store was complete and The Black Olive opened it’s original 35 seat Greek Fish Tavern. Pauline, Stelios and their son Dimitris began to make a name for themselves by serving only the freshest food. The rest, as they say, is history.