Fancy Greek Restaurant Philotimo Has Closed (for Real This Time)

Nick Stefanelli's downtown dining room faced a pandemic, a fire, and an eviction lawsuit.

Philotimo's revamped dining room. Photograph by Grupo 7.

Chef Nick Stefanelli’s sleek Greek restaurant Philotimo has faced a series of troubles since its high-profile announcement in 2019. First, its downtown DC opening was delayed due to the pandemic and supply chain disruptions. Then, months after it finally debuted in 2022, it was shut down by a fire. Now six months after reopening, Philotimo has closed for good, along with adjoining bar Kaimaki. An eviction lawsuit filed by its landlord alleged the restaurant owed more than $750,000 in unpaid rent and fees as of April. However, the landlord’s attorney and Stefanelli say they have since reached an “amicable resolution.”

“We started working on this project in 2018, beginning with trips to Greece, where we studied the extraordinary depth of this ancient cuisine to bring it to DC,” Stefanelli told Washingtonian in a text message. “Our whole team poured their hearts into Philotimo, and unfortunately, we had to make the tough decision to close it earlier this month. There were many factors that led to this, and I will always be proud of the staff, the food and drinks, and the entire operation.”

Philotimo’s landlord, 1100 15th Street LLC, filed a complaint in DC’s Landlord and Tenant court on October 25—a couple days before the restaurant was set to reopen—claiming the business owed more than $330,000 in unpaid rent and fees. The landlord then filed a second lawsuit on January 3 saying the restaurant had failed to vacate the property after being served a notice of lease termination.

The restaurant contested the balance owed. In a court filing, Stefanelli’s lawyer said the landlord was seeking to collect rent when the property was untenable after the fire, and that Philotimo was protected by a “force majeure” clause in the lease.

In February, a judge ordered Philotimo to make protective order payments of $73,863 every month beginning in April while the case was pending. In a motion for sanctions shortly after that deadline, the landlord said the restaurant failed to make the payment and owed more than $750,000. The landlord’s attorney confirmed to Washingtonian that the parties have now resolved the pending complaints and “are moving on,” but declined to elaborate further.

Philotimo was meant to be an ode to the Greek side of Stefanelli’s family, which immigrated to America in the 1920s. It initially opened in January 0f 2022 with a tasting menu starting at $108 per person and an impressive 4,000 bottle wine cellar. That June, a fire broke out in the middle of dinner service: “My [general manager] at the time came to me and was like, ‘I need you to come upstairs because there’s smoke in the liquor room,’” Stefanelli previously told Washingtonian. “Within only 25 minutes, the entire restaurant was just full of smoke.”

Stefanelli says he never got a definitive answer on the cause of the fire, but investigators told him they suspect the exhaust from the kitchen equipment was somehow causing heat to build behind the tiles, causing the blocking in the wall “to turn into a big giant piece of charcoal basically, and it combusted inside of the wall.” The fire was contained in the kitchen, but widespread smoke damage meant nearly everything had to be replaced. “It took almost a full year to get clear direction before we could even start rebuilding,” Stefanelli said.

When the restaurant reopened last October, it switched from a prix-fixe to an a la carte menu with veal-stuffed dumplings and grilled whole fish imported directly from seafood markets in Greece.

Stefanelli continues to operate high-end Italian restaurants—including Masseria near Union Market and Officina at the Wharf and Officina Cafe downtown—plus French brasserie Le Clou at the Morrow Hotel in NoMa.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.