Feature Business: The Waterwheel Café

The Waterwheel Café is one of the most well-known establishments in Milford, not only due to its unique location, but also its welcoming atmosphere and diverse menu.

The café opened in April 1989 when owner Nancie Simonet decided to relocate from Manhattan to Milford. She bought the building when it was nothing but a basement space.

“My family thought I was crazy, but being an artist I was able to see that it was a unique location,” she said.

The Waterwheel serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner Thursday through Saturday on both sides of the restaurant. The bar stays open until all of their customers have left. Nancie and her husband Darren Fouse decided to only serve dinner three nights a week so they could still have a family life outside of the restaurant.

The café’s landmark water-powered mill is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for self-guided tours during normal business hours. The wheel is completely powered by water with no electricity and is shut down during the winter months because the cold temperatures are too much on the gears.

Every Thursday night since 1997, the Waterwheel has hosted a Blues Jam in the bar. Originally they had live jazz music on Sunday nights because Darren plays the saxophone, but this did not receive as much support as the Blues Jam.

The café started as a self-serve bakery with four sandwiches on the menu. As they got more popular, they expanded their menu and started sit down service. Their food is a “fusion of European and Vietnamese cuisine.” Nancie specializes in French breads and pastries from her experience working for a bakery in Manhattan.

On opening day, a woman from Vietnam who had been recommended to Nancie offered her help, and the head chef told Nancie “not to lose Mai, she's really got the touch.” She then became the café’s baker and taught all of the cooks about Vietnamese cuisine.

The Waterwheel celebrates all holidays and always has new specials. Their biggest tradition is on Lunar New Year when they host a traditional four-course Vietnamese dinner. They make corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day, popovers and macaroons for Passover as well as more specials for Easter, Valentine’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

The bar is mainly used for dinner hours, but can also be booked for private parties of up to 40 people. They even have French classes from neighboring towns come to the Waterwheel for a classic French lunch where they play French music and speak to the students in French. 

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