Actor Woody Harrelson, financier partner for Inn at Black Olive
By By Natalie Sherman and The Baltimore Sun
Mar 10, 2014 | 8:46 PM
Actor Woody Harrelson, known for his characters in the TV show "Cheers" and movies such as "No Country for Old Men" and "The Hunger Games," has a new role: landlord of Fells Point's Inn at the Black Olive.
The celebrity joined John "Jack" Dwyer, chairman of the family of Capital Funding companies in Baltimore, in a 50-50 venture to purchase the property for $4.5 million in January after being connected by Dimitris Spiliadis, whose family opened the 12-room hotel in 2011 and lost it to foreclosure last summer.
Both Spiliadis and a representative of Dwyer — Ed Powell, managing director in the capital markets group at Capital Funding Group — described Harrelson's involvement.
Harrelson, now appearing in the HBO series "True Detective," could not be reached to confirm his investment. An assistant with Slate PR, Harrelson's publicist, would say only that the request for comment was passed along.
Spiliadis, who will remain as the operator of the eco-friendly boutique hotel, said he became friends with Harrelson during the actor's seven-week stay at the Inn for the filming of "Game Change," an HBO movie released in 2012. Around the time of the foreclosure, Spiliadis said Harrelson texted him to see how he was doing — and offered to provide financing when he heard about the hotel's troubles.
Dwyer, whom Spiliadis knew from supplying "green drinks" and other food for Dwyer's Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club, came into the picture when Spiliadis contacted him about Harrelson's offer. The two backers talked by phone, but didn't meet in person until January when Harrelson came to Baltimore to close the deal, Spiliadis said.
"They're both friends of mine somehow. I don't know how. I'm a very lucky guy," said Spiliadis, a vegeterian who called the raw vegan and environmental activist Harrelson a "lifestyle mentor" and credited Harrelson's wife with introducing him to the wonders of raw chocolate truffles.
Spiliadis's Blue Zone Hospitality, established last summer, has a five-year lease with three five-year renewal options to run the businesses operating inside the building, which include the inn, the specialty food shop Agora Market on the first floor and the Olive Room, said Powell, who worked on the deal for Dwyer.
"I take this as a real charge to work very hard. People believed in me, and it's time to really make the rest of the world understand why," said Spiliadis, whose parents continue to own and run the Black Olive restaurant nearby. "I'm excited, but I'm also nervous as could be."
The hotel, first conceived in 2000 and supposed to open in 2009, got off to a rough start because of construction delays and financing problems, which resulted in headaches such as faulty heating and air-conditioning systems, Spiliadis said. The new financial backing will allow for some renovations, he said.
The team also plans to extend the hours of the Agora Market to capture the evening crowd, and more aggressively market the Olive Room, which can fit 130 people, as an event space, Spiliadis said. He also has hired a new chief financial officer.
"I'm going to be able to not really be involved in the finances as much, and be more concentrated on food and hospitality," he said, describing his passion for the industry as a family inheritance that started with a great-grandfather who was a hotelier in Istanbul. "What we do here really comes from the heart and is genuine."
During Harrelson's stay, that service included personalized meal preparation and tracking down ingredients to fit his raw vegan diet, Spiliadis said. (A new menu features a "killer" salad recipe from Harrelson's wife, he said.)
Harrelson also designed an "eco-friendly" room for the Triton Hotel in San Francisco and is co-founder of an environmentally friendly paper company that sells pages made from wheat-straw waste and wood fiber.
Powell said the hotel is well-placed to capitalize on the health-conscious green market and will likely try to tap into the new owners' professional networks in film and business to drum up customers.
Compass Properties, a subsidiary of First Mariner Bancorp., took ownership of the property in August, after the bank bought it for $3.9 million at a June auction. The $4.5 million sale to 803 South Caroline Street LLC closed in January, according to land records.
Spiliadis said he was grateful the bank allowed him to continue to operate the hotel and did not sell it to alternate owners.
"They recognized the hustle and integrity of myself and my family," he said. "They're Baltimore people."