Tag Archives: Old Mill Grocery

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 Saved!

The market/deli at the foot of Compo Hill has served the Old Mill neighborhood — and Westport — for nearly 100 years.

Now it’s poised for its next 100.

A group of concerned — and active — residents has achieved the near-impossible: In just 2 months, they raised the $1.51 million purchase price. With boundless energy, great creativity — and the help of dozens of other concerned citizens — they ensured that one of the town’s last remaining local landmarks would not fall to a developer’s wrecking ball.

Saved! The sign says it all.

And while they’re at it, they’ll provide training and employment to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Old Mill Grocery & Deli — which I’m sure will soon be called OMG by all — is a nod to the past, with an eye to the future. Old Mill Grocery & Deli was actually its original name, in the 1920s. It’s been called Kenny’s, Elvira’s and Joey’s by the Shore in the decades since.

The original Old Mill Grocery & Deli.

Now it’s not only a market/deli, but a non-profit. Its pending 501(c)(3) status enables the purchase and preservation of the historic gem, and the employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The mission statement — “Preserving History. Serving Good” says it all.

But it would not have been possible without 100 donors, who contributed the first $1 million; another 450 who clicked on GoFundMe to add almost $300,000 more. Contributors came primarily from Westporters, but included former residents who remember the neighborhood store fondly.

Fairfield County Bank, which provided a mortgage to close the gap.

Organizers Jim Hood, Ian Warburg, Chris Tait and Emily Ashken Zobl  lauded town officials too, in the selectwomen’s office and other departments, for their “incredibly supportive” help.

Jim Hood (left) and Ian Warburg, outside their new business..

So when will OMG open?

The new owners are talking with several prospective operators/partners. A deal will be signed soon.

Supply chain issues have created long delivery times for some kitchen equipment. There may be a soft opening, with a partial menu, initially.

“We are in this for the long, long term!” the group says.

But the short-term payoff is already here. Yesterday evening Jim and Ian were hanging a sign announcing this summer’s opening.

A woman pushing a newborn in a stroller saw the scene — and cried with joy.

Meanwhile today, fundraising continues. Naming rights opportunities exist for new partners to provide some or all of the kitchen equipment, pizza oven, beverage coolers, a community table and chairs, picnic tables and umbrellas, espresso and soft-serve ice cream machines, delivery scooters and more. Signage and recognition will be provided. Email OldMillGroceryDeli@gmail.com for more information.

OMG! It’s really happening!

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.