Tag Archives: Chris Tait

OMG! Old Mill Grocery Opens Soon

For a couple of months, Westporters gazed longingly at the old Elvira’s/Joey’s by the Shore on Hillspoint Road. A sign promised that the Old Mill Grocery & Deli would open this summer.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Our long wait is almost over. The new owners have found a great local operator, poised to begin the last week of July.

It will be run by …

…. TGB Hospitality Group.

Doesn’t sound familiar? This will: TGB stands for “The Granola Bar.”

One of Westport’s favorite coffee shop/bakeries takes over one of our town’s most historic properties. For 103 years, the wooden building by Old Mill Beach has served the neighborhood, beachgoers, and everyone else who works or passes through the area.

Previous owners Hal and Betsy Kravitz searched hard for a buyer. They could not find one. Finally — just after they sold all their equipment — a group of nearby residents led by Jim Hood, Ian Warburg, Chris Tait and Emily Ashken Zobl formed a non-profit to buy the building, and keep it as a market/deli.

Done! The newest sign was unveiled yesterday evening. Standing proudly are (from left): Jim Hood, The Granola Bar co-founders Julie Mountain and Dana Noorilly, TGB Hospitality Group director of food and beverage JJ Heanoa, Emily Ashken Zobl. Koda — the Old Mill Grocery dog — sits in front.

Their fundraising was phenomenal. But they’re not pizza chefs and coffee makers.

They met with about 20 potential operators. The Granola Bar was the perfect fit.

Owners Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily have a great reputation. They know and love Westport. They’re pros — but they’re also fun to work with.

They had even thought about buying the building, when it was up for sale last year. But, Julie notes, “we serve food. We’re not in the real estate business.”

Since opening 9 years ago, The Granola Bar has been an integral part of Westport. “We live here. We see the people we serve every day. Our kids are in the schools. These are all our friends, our neighbors,” Mountain notes.

Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily, The Granola Bar co-founders.

Mountain and Noorily have expanded. TGB Hospitality Group now includes 6 restaurants, a catering business, food truck and restaurant consultancy.

But the Old Mill Grocery & Deli will not be The Granola Bar 2.0. It’s forging its own identity.

The “beach food” menu will include pastas, sandwiches, salads, wraps, smashburgers, and fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. TGB baker Rick Dickinson will provide the pizza dough. Breakfast food is both healthy and “indulgent.” There will be meals to please the night crowd too — and charcuterie boards to bring to the beach. (Old Mill Grocery will deliver to the Compo drop-off point, too.)

Plus, of course, ice cream.

Noorily  calls it “an elevated place the serves elevated food.”

“This community saved the building. They’ll get a year-round restaurant and market,” Hood says. (The “market” includes staples like butter, milk, eggs and paper towels.) That’s great news for the 750 homes within a 3/4-mile radius.

Committee members (from left) Ian Warburg, Jim Hood and Emily Ashken Zobl, outside the property they helped save.

“This is not a lift. It’s a full Botox,” Mountain says.

It’s also a fulfillment of the investors’ mission, to provide training and jobs for people with special needs and disabilities.

The new owners have done plenty of due diligence: first creating a non-profit, then purchasing the building, now finding the perfect operators.

In a few days, the next chapter in this historic story begins.

(Old Mill Grocery & Deli hopes to open on or around July 25. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m, 7 days a week. Click here for more information; follow on Instagram @oldmillgrocery.

(Soundview Empowerment Alliance — the nonprofit organization behind the community effort — seeks donors interested in “naming rights” for major items. They range from an espresso machine and pizza oven to re-shingling and a new roof. For more information email SoundviewEmpowerment@gmail.com.)

(Like Old Mill Grocery, “06880” is a community resource. Please click here to help support this blog.)

Unsung Heroes #239

The ink is still drying on the contract. Supply chain issues are delaying some equipment. The operator has not yet been finalized.

But the Old Mill Grocery lives!

For a couple of years, the future of the market/deli/community center on Hillspoint Road by Old Mill Beach was in doubt. The small, century-old wooden building could have been sold to developers, who were hungry to tear it down and replace it with a (very) high-priced home.

But Hal and Betsy Kravitz — owners of Joey’s by the Shore, the most recent iteration of what was previously Elvira’s, Kenny’s and (originally) the Old Mill Grocery — were willing to listen to the community.

Hal and Betsy Kravitz, after buying Elvira’s.

They worked with Jim Hood, Ian Warburg, Chris Tait and Emily Ashken Zobl — Westporters with long ties to the area — to save the deli.

Tom Febbraio — the Fairfield restaurateur who grew up around the corner — helped get a mortgage from Fairfield County Bank.

From left: Ian Warburg, Jim Hood and Emily Ashken Zobl helped organize the project. When this photo was taken, Chris Tait was out in the street soliciting donations.

A few folks pitched in big bucks. Scores of residents (and former residents) added whatever they could.

When mortgage negotiations took (surprise!) longer than expected, Hal and Betsy extended their deadline.

Now Old Mill Grocery and Deli — OMG! — lives. It will open this summer, probably with a soft launch.

Employees will include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Bill and Andrea Pecoriello — owners of Sweet P Bakery and The Porch @ Christie’s, which helped pioneer that hiring model locally — are important supporters.

After nearly a century, the original name will be back.

It’s a win-win-win, feel good story.

So Jim, Ian, Chris, Emily, Tom, Bill and Andrea are all this week’s Unsung Heroes. And if you contributed any funds to the cause — $10,000 or $10 — you join them as honorees.

In a town and world “starved” for good news, this takes the cake.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email 06880blog@gmail.com)

OMG! Old Mill Grocery Funding Nears Finish Line

Less than 2 weeks ago, “06880” reported on the drive to save “Elvira’s” — the Old Mill deli/market that camethisclose to being sold to a developer.

Since then, the team working feverishly to preserve the community institution has made great progress.

The end is in sight. But they still need help.

Last week, the group needed an additional $325,000 to acquire the property. They quickly raised $125,000.

Three days ago at a fundraiser, several donors offered $100,000 — as a matching grant. If others contribute that amount, the $325,000 goal will be reached.

But the deadline is soon: March 31. As in, this coming Thursday.

Committee members (from left) Ian Warburg, Jim Hood and Emily Ashken Zobl, outside the property they hope the community will help buy.

The group is creating a non-profit foundation. It will administer the Old Mill Grocery and Deli — and, as part of its mission, offer training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of the leaders behind the challenge grant is Bill Loftus, and his Coastal Bridge Advisors investment firm.

He says, “We are proud to be the first corporate donor in the effort to save Elvira Mae’s. It’s such an important part of Westport’s history and beach culture. We simply must save this neighborhood gem. I hope other Westport businesses will join us.”

Bill Loftus (4th from left) hosted a fundraiser at his Coastal Bridge Advisors office on Wilton Road — and then pledged funding to help save the Old Mill Grocery.

Committee member Emily Ashken Zobl says, “We are so grateful to Billy and his team for promoting this challenge grant. I grew up with Elvira’s, and have so many wonderful memories. I want my kids and their kids to be able to do the same.”

Member Ian Warburg notes, “This is such an innovative way to help us reach our goal. It means every $250 someone from the community donates becomes $500.”

Everyone donating $250 or more will be included in a digital history, on permanent display inside the market.

Chris Tait adds, “People always wonder what happened to great places once they’re gone and it’s too late. That’s why we’re shouting from the rooftops  Once people hear about the opportunity to save something special, they’re in.”

Whether called Old Mill Grocery, Kenny’s, Elvira’s or Joey’s by the Shore, the Hillspoint Road market/deli has served the neighborhood — and town — since the 1920s.

Jim Hood says, “We are incredibly grateful for the community’s generous support. Now we’re asking for one last push to make sure our effort succeeds.”

Hood and other team members will be at the market today and tomorrow (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to meet potential donors and answer questions.

They’ll have coffee and donuts — but they’ll have to buy them elsewhere, and bring them in.

For the great stuff, we have to wait for Old Mill Grocery & Deli to open.

Fingers crossed.

(For the Old Mill Grocery website, click here. To donate online, click here or use the QR code below. To request a wire transfer form or donate by check, click here. Questions about donating? Email savelvirasmarket@gmail.com.)

QR code for donations to save the Old Mill Grocery & Deli.

New Life For Old Mill Market

For nearly 100 years, through name changes (Old Mill Grocery, Kenny’s, Elvira’s, Joey’s by the Shore) and changing trends (market, deli, ice cream shop), a small wooden building has served Old Mill neighbors, beachgoers, joggers, bicyclists, workers, and anyone else passing by.

It closed several months ago. By New Year’s, its fate looked bleak. No one was interested in reopening a business. The location — yards from the water, at the foot of Compo Hill — made it ripe for a residential buyer.

Like the restaurant-turned-home diagonally across the street, it looked like the small lot would soon be filled with a huge house.

But now it seems the Old Mill Grocery will live again.

Elvira’s, in 2016.

A few dozen neighbors — and other who grew up nearby, or remember the importance of the store, or just want to preserve a bit of old Westport — have united to help save the landmark.

And they’re doing it in a creative, innovative, very win-win way. Their priority is to save the café/market, then form a non-profit organization (the application is already underway). The goal is to break even, and serve the community.

And they’ll do it by offering training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

All they need is $1.3 million. But they need it by April 1.

The good news: They’re more than three-quarters of the way there.  Without any public announcement, $975,000 has already been pledged.

Balloons will soon be seen again at Elvira’s.

The core group that’s done the heavy lifting is a who’s who of Westport: Ian Warburg, Chris Tait, Jim Hood, Emily Ashken Zobl and Tommy Febbraio.

All except Hood grew up in Westport (but he and his family have lived by Compo Beach for 26 years). Tait is an RTM member, and lives nearby. All 5 are deeply committed to saving this local institution.

For months, owners Hal and Betsy Kravitz shopped the property to 30 or so potential business operators. None were interested.

Discouraged, the couple felt they had no choice but to sell to a residential developer — against their wishes. When Hood, Tait, Warburg and others heard the news, they swung into action.

The Kravitzes listened. They wanted to work with the neighborhood group. But they could not wait forever. They proposed a fair, reasonable — but relatively quick — deadline for funding.

The group got commitments. They began the 501(c)(3) process.

Febbraio — a 1970 Staples High School graduate who was raised near Longshore — was a key link. A successful restaurateur who knows his way around Fairfield County real estate, he offered advice about the business, as well as an introduction to Fairfield County Bank. They agreed to back the project.

The non-profit component is also crucial. Eighty percent of disabled people are unemployed, Hood says. The market can empower intellectually and physically disabled people, and others who are often marginalized, not just with employment and training, but by buying products from Sweet P Bakery and The Porch, which also hires and trains disabled workers.

That giving-back-to-the-community model offers a nod, in a way, to Kenny Montgomery, the store’s proprietor from the 1950s through early ’80s. When he died, longtime customers were stunned to learn he had bequeathed $500,000 to the Westport YMCA.

Before Elvira’s, the store at the foot of Compo Hill was owned by Ken Montgomery.

Now comes outreach to the broader community. The organizers are seeking commitments from others, to reach the funding goal. A GoFundMe page went live yesterday (click here).

The hope is for a soft launch this summer. As the business grows, they’ll respond to what customers want and need.

And what will the new store be called?

The final name has not been decided. But a strong favorite is Old Mill Grocery.

It’s simple. It’s historic — the name of the very first market there.

And its initials are perfect for this community effort, to help save a local institution from the developers’ claws.

That’s right: OMG.

(For more information, or to discuss a major contribution to the project, email Jim Hood and Ian Warburg: SaveElvirasMarket@gmail.com.)

The original market, in the 1920s.