Preserving history, serving good: community organization aims to save Elvira’s

Jim+Hood%2C+Ian+Warburg+and+Emily+Ashken+Zobl+%E2%80%9912%2C+three+founding+members+of++Save+the+Old+Mill+Grocery+and+Deli+pose+after+raising+over+a+million+dollars+for+the+cause.+

Photo by Katie Simons '22

Jim Hood, Ian Warburg and Emily Ashken Zobl ’12, three founding members of Save the Old Mill Grocery and Deli pose after raising over a million dollars for the cause.

By Katie Simons ’22, Staples High School

Even in May, sand sticks to the floors of the former Elvira Mae’s location. Pictures of students who grew up in the Compo area line the walls. The baby blue trim of the beachy exterior slowly peels next to the umbrellas, which stand crooked against the still sky. If the Elvira Mae’s location is anything, it is beloved. 

It’s this love that has kept the market open for nearly 100 years despite various owners. Located minutes from Compo Beach, it has been the go-to spot for coffee, french fries and sandwiches for community members across generations. Now, as the current owners retire, a group of Westporters have come together to prevent the store from being turned into a house.

The Old Mill Grocery and Deli team has used crowdfunding to purchase the location of Elvira Mae’s. While the market will go by a different name and be run by different owners, the team hopes to provide the same style of food and community convenience that Elivra’s has provided.    

We’re preserving history by preserving the […] experience that people have enjoyed for generations. And this added component would be to provide people who might otherwise struggle to get job training and employment with an opportunity to do just that here with the idea being we’re also educating the community. ”

— Ian Warburg

“We didn’t want to see this place be lost, because it’s really the last place in the beach area where you can walk to meet friends and people value that,” Jim Hood, a founding member of Save the Old Mill Grocery and Deli, said. “We took a leap of faith [..] and started to talk in earnest with folks about what would you really invest or donate to this kind of an effort.”

Through reaching out to neighbors, the group was able to raise an initial $975,000 with just roughly 100 donors, and according to their GoFundMe, raised an additional $212,520 through about 450 donors. They have now bought the building and are in the process of obtaining a 510(c)(3) nonprofit status because of their plans to employ those with disabilities and provide job-training and life-skills. 

 “We’re preserving history by preserving the […] experience that people have enjoyed for generations,” Ian Warburg, a founding member of Save the Old Mill Grocery and Deli, said. “And this added component would be to provide people who might otherwise struggle to get job training and employment with an opportunity to do just that here with the idea being we’re also educating the community.”

Hood hopes to open a new version of the restaurant by the summer, most likely with a limited menu. In the meantime, they continue to work through the kinks of opening and operating a new business. Many fan favorites, however, will remain on the menu.

“[It’s a] walk before you run sort of thing, but we also [know] it’s not rocket science.” Hood said. “We know what really sells here a lot, So it’s not really complicated to know where you should start.”

If one thing is clear, it is that this is a community-focused organization. Members of the Save the Old Mill Grocery and Deli all expressed a similar sentiment: they want Westporters to experience the market just as they did.   

“I remember slices of pizza, the bacon-egg-and-cheese and coming down for an ice cream, no shoes, just right on in,” Emily Ashken Zobl ’12, member of Save the Old Mill Grocery and Deli, said. “I just recently moved back to the area and […] I want those [memories] for my future kids.”

In a time where Westport has seen an influx of new families, the Old Mill Market and Deli hopes to continue to serve generations to come. 

“This is part of the fabric of people’s lives day in and day out year round,” Warburg said. “It’s a place for the laborers in the community to come and get refreshments. It’s a place for visitors to the community to come and get what they need. This place is for all of us.”

This story was originally published on Inklings on May 19, 2022.