Stacé Hansen and her daughter Kathrine talk about opening Sunflower Café & Bakery, which is at the former location of Le Soir in Bayport. Credit: Newsday/Randee Daddona; Photo credit: Stacé Hansen

When Stacé Hansen walked into the French bistro space for the first time, a comforting feeling came over her … like she'd always been there. For nearly a half-century, the historic building on Montauk Highway had been occupied by Le Soir, a well-known and beloved celebration spot for in the Bayport community. But its owner, Janina Kaziewicz, had been running the restaurant by herself for several years after the death of her husband, Michaël Kaziewicz, and at 73 years old she was ready to retire.

The space has a timeless quality to it and feels more like a walking into a house than a restaurant. You enter through a side door and after making your way through a small hallway, step into an airy dining room with large windows that look out onto a quaint little courtyard. Hansen, who has a background in fashion and design, felt that the building had the right combination of coziness and natural light to make it a compelling spot for her first full-service restaurant, Sunflower Café & Bakery. 

The single mother had enough service industry experience to know she had to act fast on this one. Working together with her daughter Kathrine, the two set about training the existing Le Soir staff, hiring new people, swapping out the floors for shiny new tile and creating a menu that both honored the original concept and showcased Stacé's creative impulses and love of fresh herbs. Nine days after the deal was signed in December, the new restaurant reopened as Sunflower Café & Bakery. On opening night, her entire family was present, including her mother, Laret Williams, who helped host, and her aunt Edna Chisolm, who was preparing cookie trays. 

“And I did it all with a smile. We were so happy, we were giddy,” she said. “I was on a mission. We had to make money; we had to get going. You’re either in business or you’re not. If you’re not open, you’re not in business.” 

Unlike chef Michaël of Le Soir, Stacé did not grow up in France or have a culinary school degree. Originally from Costa Rica, her family moved to New York in search of a better life when she was 8 years old, and they settled in Freeport, where Stacé grew up. She was able to learn English quickly because her parents insisted on only speaking it at home, rather than the Spanish she was accustomed to. The experience has often made her feel like an “outlier,” but the enterprising student attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and also ESMOD fashion design school in Paris, where she fell in love with French food and culture.

While she mainly cooks French food at home and for her legendary parties, she initially specialized in Scandinavian food, and went on to open the popular Copenhagen Bakery in Northport with her ex-husband, Flemming Hansen. (She later fronted her own catering company, The Potted Palate.) Stacé's son Espen learned to bake while growing up in Copenhagen Bakery, and has taken over the pastry program at Sunflower, arriving at 5 a.m. before the staff gets there so he has enough free kitchen space to bake his cookies and cakes. 

Stacé Hansen, chef and owner of Sunflower Cafe & Bakery in Bayport,...

Stacé Hansen, chef and owner of Sunflower Cafe & Bakery in Bayport, holds homemade desserts made by her son, Espen Hansen. Credit: Randee Daddona

Stacé's camaraderie with her children is driven by a positive and loving atmosphere. Sitting together at one of the bistro tables by the window, she and Kathrine trade compliments about each other. Stacé is driven, while Kathrine is “tremendously organized” and helped get the business off the ground. On another occasion during a recent lunch service, the two stood together at the bar looking at paperwork, before Stacé disappeared into the kitchen and Kathrine helped another server with the dining room. The business has only been open since mid-December, but they make a compelling team. 

“I’m a single mom and I'm doing this for my family. I’m doing this for my children. I’m doing it for me too, of course, because I do get a great deal of joy from it. ” Stacé said. “I'm setting up for the generations to come. They’ll always have this place. They’ll always love it. That’s how I think, I always think long term. … I’m a planner.” 

So far, the two said there haven't been as many hiccups as you might think, considering they're taking over a space with so much history in the community. Stacé said they've gotten nothing but support since they've opened, and that most days they'll get a hug or a friendly email from a customer who was glad their beloved gathering spot was saved from permanent closure. During a recent lunch, the room had a jovial buzz, with lunchers that included women sipping pink mocktails out of wine glasses, with one wearing a birthday tiara. (The Hansens are still waiting on their liquor license, so for now it's BYOB.)

“No one wants to see a closed business on a main corner of their town,” she said. 

“Especially a place like this,” Kathrine continued. “So many special occasions people would come here for … the food [which] was just excellent. I know people were very worried.” 

The two kept many of the original Le Soir menu items, but added their own contemporary twist to them. During lunch, a simple bowl of French onion soup ($8.32) becomes a showstopping appetizer, with a large bread slice popping up from the beefy moat, topped with fried onions and smothered with melty Gruyere cheese that cascades down the side of the brown crock. Underneath, the beefy broth is rather subtle with generous scatterings of fresh and finely chopped thyme. Soups are a highlight of the menu at Sunflower, as the team brings in 50 pounds of beef and fish bones a week to prepare all of the stocks.

French onion soup at Sunflower Cafe & Bakery in Bayport.

French onion soup at Sunflower Cafe & Bakery in Bayport. Credit: Randee Daddona

Another highlight, aside from the massive Nicoise salad, is the daily ice cream ($12.48), which Stacé prepares in the style of French glacé by adding eggs, which thicken it like a frozen custard. (If they have it that day, the pistachio is superb.) The menu becomes a little more formal at dinner, with Blue Point oysters ($20.80) and steak frites in an herbaceous green butter ($43.68). 

Helping to grow Copenhagen bakery taught Stacé the secret of success, and it's an ethos she plans to carry over at Sunflower. Although French dining is known for its uncompromising chef visionary artists, she takes a more pragmatic approach to the cuisine. 

“The best way for a business to grow is just listen to what people want,” she said. “I think food is a part of celebrating life and sharing with other people. … That’s what I want to be, that place, where the people are happy to be here and they can have some of their favorite things. I want them to know that we care.” 

Sunflower Café & Bakery, 825 Montauk Hwy., Bayport, 631-472-9090, Open 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, lunch service 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and dinner 5-9 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Top Stories