Elayne Cassara ’11: Turning a 1639 mill into a social hub

by Carolyn Arnold

No matter what your pleasure may be, La Roue Elayne at Cobb’s Mill Inn in Weston, Conn., has something that will delight you. Elayne Cassara ’11, a nontraditional undergraduate theatre student, took over the restaurant at the Cobb’s Mill Inn in Weston — the original mill site was developed in 1639 — with the vision of turning it into the premiere location in town for fine dining, vibrant nightlife, and live entertainment for people and families of all ages.

The idea to create this place came about from a difficult time in Cassara’s past. In 2005, her seven-year-old son Jon-Kely was killed on a ride at an amusement park and she struggled to regain her footing following the tragedy.

“My life was turned upside down. Nothing was the same,” she said.

Cassara, who had been a pastor for 20 years at a church in Darien, Conn., came to the decision that she wanted to find a way to commemorate the memory of her son rather than live in grief.

She eventually decided to enroll at Fairfield and study theatre. Her final thesis hinted at the ambitious plans she had to create and manage a place that would combine entertainment, spiritual fulfillment, and community.

Cassara laughingly admitted that her proposal was initially a big jumble of ideas that she struggled to articulate. Professor Lynne Porter, associate professor of theatre, who reviewed Cassara’s thesis said, “I’m delighted that Elayne is taking what she learned here and putting that together with what she already knew and what she’s dreamed of at La Roue Elayne.”

Professor Porter noted that Cassara was the right person to take on the endeavor: “Elayne is a person who pulls people together and people who know her come to truly love her,” she said. “She’s compelling as a performer and she attracts performance and audience members to her. So I’m just over the moon that she’s taken on this new venture.”

Following her graduation from Fairfield in 2011, Cassara began looking for the perfect location for her vision. She eventually partnered with Drew Friedman, a local businessman who discovered the beautiful Cobb’s Mill property and purchased it.

Cobb’s Mill, first established in 1639, has had a rich history over the years and served as everything from a working mill to a summer house.

Waterfall at La Roue Elayne in Weston, Conn.

Waterfall at La Roue Elayne in Weston, Conn.

Cassara has always been eager to take on big projects, but was initially hesitant about the mill, not because of the large scale, but because the location was more rural. When she and Friedman visited the property, Cassara said, “My immediate reaction was ‘no way!’ But then I heard the waterfall and fell in love. It took my breath away,” she explained.

Cassara appreciated the connection that the mill had to the history of Weston and loved the building, which had a Parisian ambiance to it. She decided to name the restaurant and entertainment venue, “La Roue Elayne.” In French, “roue” means ‘wheel’ and because the wheel powers the entire mill, Cassara thought the name was fitting as she and Friedman envisioned a place that would grow to become “the heart” of Weston and its surrounding communities.

Now that La Roue Elayne is in full swing, Cassara, who also has a 12-year-old daughter, Jaelle, has polished her skills in entrepreneurism, management, entertainment, and communication. Every day is bursting with activity and building up to another memorable event. In addition to the restaurant, they’ve hosted a variety of live music events (visitors might even see Cassara sing when her band performs), wine tastings, weddings, Boy Scout events, and many other can’t-miss happenings.

Cassara said that, like every wheel, La Roue Elayne will continue to keep rolling, and grow to be a strong mecca for a community of artists, neighbors, and friends. Recently they were approved by planning and zoning to open the J.K.Cafe in one of their buildings in honor of her son, and will donate a percentage of their proceeds to support children’s music and arts programs in the community. Future plans include opening the venue for educational programs and creating a memorial park that will become a place where people can enjoy the beauty of the place and celebrate every joy in life.

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