Tag Archives: Ian Warburg

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.)

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. 

Bookcycle’s Remarkable Journey

The Remarkable Bookcycle sure gets around.

The mobile free library — a fun, funky collaboration between writer Jane Green, her husband Ian Warburg, artist/longtime Remarkable Book Shop enthusiast Miggs Burroughs and former Staples High School student Ryan Peterson — made its way from the Green/Warburgs’ Owenoke home to Bedford Square last fall.

EJ Zebro — owner of TAP StrengthLab — pedaled it over to Main Street recently, where it greeted visitors to the 1st Outdoor Market behind Savvy + Grace.

But Jane — a client and friend of EJ’s — told him the Bookcycle had to be back at the beach for the summer.

He and his TAP staff jumped at the chance to help. When the weather was right, Lauren Leppla hopped on, and made her move.

Local director Amelia Arnold chronicled the trip. If you didn’t see her (and it) riding by, here you go:

Remarkable Bookcycle: The Back Story

Saturday night’s Pics of the Day was one of “06880”‘s most special — and most commented on.

The photo s– sent by a reader who did not identify him or herself — showed a 3-wheeler. In front of the pedals sat a wooden structure, filled with books.

It was painted pink — just like the old Remarkable Book Shop.

More remarkably, the front featured the beloved store’s dancing man logo.

And — in case you missed the other clues — a sign on the top said “The Remarkable Bookcycle.”

The photos were taken in and around Compo Beach.

Readers loved it. But no one knew the back story.

Now it can be told. And the tale comes courtesy of Jane Green: author of 19 novels, with over 10 million books in print in more than 25 languages. Besides being (duh) a huge book lover, she’s a longtime Westporter — and a very involved neighbor. She writes:

It started with George, although really, it started with the Remarkable Book Shop. Ever since I moved to Westport almost 18 years ago, everyone has told me that I would have loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Esther and Sidney Kramer were neighbors of ours, and I’ve harbored a secret fantasy of re-opening the bright pink bookshop for years.

Which brings me to George: a cargo tricycle we bought from neighbors of ours at the beach about 12 years ago. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a way to transport picnics and children back and forth to the beach, but those children are now teenagers, and George has languished in our garage for years.

More recently, I found myself obsessed with Little Free Libraries. The Little Free Library is a non-profit organization founded in the 1980’s to encourage people to read, and to bring communities together. Usually, people build them at the end of their driveways, giving away free books, bringing strangers together, chatting about books.

As a novelist who created the Facebook group Westport Front Porch for exactly that reason — to bring a sense of community back — and as an avid reader, I had always wanted a little free library. Also, my house is threatening to topple over with the piles of books everywhere. But I live on a small private street, and suspected my neighbors might not be so happy with an influx of readers coming over.

A mobile Little Free Library suddenly seemed an excellent idea, one that could travel around the beach and bring a bit of happy nostalgia to our town, for who doesn’t feel good when they remember the Remarkable Book Shop? I found a wonderful new Staples graduate, Ryan Peterson, to rebuild George and transform him into the bookshop. I downloaded pictures of the store for him, and with my husband Ian Warburg, who grew up here and has so many happy memories of the bookstore, designed the cart as a double-sided library where people can take home free books.

Jane Green stocks the Remarkable Bookcycle library …

I was ready to paint the sign myself, but realized that Miggs Burroughs would do a much better job. I sent him an email asking for his help with a secret project, with no idea that his mother, Esta Burroughs, worked at the book shop from the day it opened until the day it closed. (How remarkable is that?!) Miggs was thrilled, and painted both the sign and the instantly recognizable dancing man.

We have loved parking the Remarkable Bookcycle (pronounced bicycle!) by the beach this weekend, and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. At some point soon, we’ll have a website set up with news of how to donate books. In the meantime, look for the Remarkable Bookcycle around Compo, raise your glasses to the spirits of Sidney and Esther Kramer and Esta Burroughs, and don’t forget to stroke Heathcliff the cat while you’re picking out your book. Yes, there’s even a Heathcliff the cat tucked in amongst the books in the Remarkable Bookcycle!

… and takes an inaugural ride, along Compo Beach Road.

So What Are You Gonna Do Now With All That Milk And Eggs?

Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop were stripped nearly bare. Gas stations were jammed. The Blizzard of the Year Decade Century Millennia Entire History of the Universe Since the Big Bang was coming!

It snowed this morning. The wind blew. A couple dozen homes were without power.

Ninety minute later, the juice was back on.

That was pretty much the story today. There was a storm for sure, and a bit of flooding. But to find the last time predictions were so far off, you have to go way back to November 8.

It was a day for Netflix. Finishing your taxes. And for Westport students to do homework.

Because you know — the Forecast of Doom notwithstanding — they’ll be back in school tomorrow.

Snow will fall. But birds have to feed. Kathie Motes Bennewitz made sure they had enough to eat.

Saugatuck Shores and coastal areas got hit with flooding, from the wind, high tide and full moon. When the storm receded, Max and Logan Manchester kayaked down Spriteview Avenue.

Water whipped up against Schlaet’s Point, on Hillspoint Road… (Photo/Ian Warburg)

…and nearby Compo Beach. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

This morning — with a statewide travel ban in effect — I-95 was deserted. This is the view looking north, from the Hales Road overpass. (Photo/Fred Cantor)