Something about The Mill makes it seem as though it has always been here. Perhaps it is because it is such a natural fit, such a welcome addition. Or perhaps it’s the happy ghost of the cider mill that stood in its place centuries ago. Whatever it is — it is most appreciated. The Mill sandwich shop in Essex opened its doors on February 29th amidst hopeful speculation as not only could Essex use another sandwich shop, The Mill also promised good coffee, pastries, and even a lovely assortment of sundry gourmet provisions. Hallelujah!
The Mill’s menu offered a wide variety of breakfast options, an extensive sandwich menu, salads, every coffee and tea possibility you could imagine, along with grab-and-go prepared salads. Additionally, Josh and Caitlin Silverstein, owners of The Mill, provided a small selection of choice groceries. They noted that once you hit Eastern Avenue, if you were cooking dinner and needed a tomato, an onion, or ran out of rice, you are really quite far away from a market. With this in mind, they organized an inspired collection of goods from which one could easily find a missing item, or even pull off an entire meal. And so it was. They opened their doors and business was good. In fact, in the first two weeks they were open the shop was literally slammed. And then — COVID.
Having worked in kitchens and restaurants since he was fifteen, Josh is fluent in food. Running his own business was something he was prepared for, but was aware of the learning curve that comes with doing anything for the first time.
However, nothing could have prepared either him or Caitlin for navigating the ever-changing tides of COVID. In the past four months, they have had three different business models. They have had to adapt not only to the restrictions, but to what they, as people, felt was the best thing for their customers. To this end, Josh and Caitlin made a difficult decision — to take a short break and regroup. The Mill met all of the qualifications to move directly to take-out in those first weeks of stay-at-home restrictions. Josh explains, “We could have kept the doors open but we felt that we could serve the community better if we shut the doors and focused on prepared meals.” And so they regrouped. They redesigned the menu with the idea that what was needed more than sandwiches and coffee were family oriented prepared comfort meals that could be purchased and then popped in the fridge and heated up as needed. The couple also initiated a delivery service for the first three weeks of opening back up for take-out. Elderly community members shared that The Mill’s delicious prepared meals had been enormously comforting in a time when going out to the grocery store felt far too risky.
And so here we are. The silver lining. The Mill is open, back in action, and Josh and Caitlin have become very adept at parts of the business that likely would have taken a back seat to the larger more varied menu tailored for “normal” times. The adaptation has made them nimble and creative in a way that nothing else quite could. They got tested early — and they passed.
Now, they have mastered the prepared meals that can stay in the fridge for a while. Solid deeply tasty favorites such as meatballs, Thai pork, jerk chicken over rice and beans, and shepherd’s pie to name a few. The menu still has excellent breakfast options, the Breakfast Bahn Mi is not to be missed. On the sandwich side, you cannot go wrong. Everything is packed, fresh and tasty. They have streamlined the menu to handle the large orders they get for people heading out for a day on the boat or beach. They have thought through this need quite carefully with sandwiches that can stay for a few hours, an array of prepared salads, chips and salsa, and, my favorite, cold summer soups.
So while The Mill has had to change, change, and change again, the goodness remains constant; Both the food and the intention. I am glad The Mill is here, as though it always was. Welcome.