Waterwheel at 25 savors success

Nancie Simonet talks about how far she's come with the help of husband Darren and many, many good friends

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  • Nancie Simonet and husband Darren Fouse (Photo by Linda Fields)

  • A nice spread awaited guests at the Waterwheel. (Photo by Linda Fields)

  • Guests enjoy some of the mild weather that's been in short supply so far this spring (Photo by Linda Fields)

By Linda Fields

— Hard work, perseverance — and good food, especially — have been key ingredients in the success of the Waterwheel Café, which just marked its 25th anniversary. On Saturday, Nancie Simonet and husband Darren Fouse threw a party and invited loyal patrons of the restaurant and bar to come celebrate. The combination of fine weather, good neighbors and great food made for a enjoyable time for all.

Twenty five years ago Simonet opened a bakery and self-service lunch café and now operates a full-menu restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and dinner on Thursdays through Saturdays. The bar is open when dinner is served and offers a separate bar menu, and often has live entertainment. On the occasion of her silver jubilee, Simonet answered some questions.

Q: You are a rare success story in Milford. To what do you attribute that?

A: Slow and steady evolution, trying not to bite off more than I could chew, focusing on consistency with a democratic approach of always involving my staff and my customers’ feedback. Mostly, working hard for the love of it, realizing that I was in a small town, never expecting to be “raking in the dough," and being satisfied with making a simple living. My longtime staff and a group of young, bright and caring employees have made things so much easier.

Q: Why did you decide to celebrate this way?

A: I have always had a huge sense of community. Coming from a small town in New Jersey, moving to the craziness of Manhattan for many years, then coming here, I appreciated Milford for its small town feel. My customers have become my extended family. Eleven years ago when I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) the support of this community was life-altering. My father would always comment, “This would have never happened anywhere else!” A dear friend, Ellen Silverstone, decided that my illness and inevitable treatment was cause for a community fundraiser to help me and my family with all of the out-of-pocket expenses that would not be covered by my health insurance while I was going through a stem cell transplant. Together with so many wonderful people helping out this “Night for Nancie” was the most humbling and overwhelming evening in my life. I have always wanted to celebrate the generosity and love that I have received from this community together with a sincere “thank you” to all my customers who have made my life what it is today.

Q: What would you tell a young entrepreneur who wanted to do what you have done?

A: I would tell them to expect to work harder than they could imagine, not to be impulsive, too sensitive or have high expectations. They would need to have a real love for food and thick skin for an often thankless job.

Q: Do you have some stand-out memories as a restaurateur that you can share?

A: There are so many! Long before the television view into restaurant kitchens, I always said that a writer should spend a few days in our kitchen and they’d have endless material for several seasons of some crazy television show. I should have told that to the right people back then.

Simonet gives credit to her husband, Darren Fouse.

“I spend most of my time behind the scenes, in the kitchen or behind the computer," she said. "I am endlessly grateful to Darren for his naturally kind nature and his ability to allow that to shine even when things are most difficult in the restaurant business.”

Darren’s presence in her business during the last 18 years has helped customers grow comfortable, she said, "knowing that they will always be warmly welcomed and treated with the utmost care and respect.”

The couple makes a good match.

“We both enjoy eating," she said. "Our love for different ethnic cuisines and enjoying a good bottle of wine has been a passion we share that keeps fueling us with ideas and enthusiasm."

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