Le Soir in Bayport.

Le Soir in Bayport. Credit: Doug Young

After 46 years, one of Long Island's most venerable French restaurants, Le Soir, closed last month and is being transformed by new owners into a French-inspired cafe. The Bayport institution was one of the few French-owned restaurants on Long Island, known for its continental ambience and faithful renditions of classic dishes like boeuf bourguignon and duck à l'orange. 

Le Soir, which opened in 1977, was named among Long Island's top French restaurants by Newsday in 1988, with recommended seafood entrees including “a whole lobster, moist, juicy, split and covered with a creamy, lush whisky sauce that shouldn't concern Prohibitionists.” The restaurant also was heralded for its sizable wine list, which included nearly 100 bottles. The New York Times described Le Soir as “the dream everyone hopes to find: an attractive little French restaurant serving good food at reasonable prices.”

Michaël Kaziewicz, who moved to the United States from France when he was 25 years old, owned Le Soir with his wife, Janina, until his death in 2018. She kept the restaurant going by herself for the past several years, but recently decided to retire and spend more time with her grandchildren.

“It’s really been my whole life,” Janina said. “It wasn’t the same after my husband died. Then the pandemic came, and I had to keep going. … I’m 73. It was time.” 

After putting the restaurant on the market, her Realtor introduced her to Stacé Hansen, who plans to open a new concept with her daughter Kathrine. The two are doing some quick renovations and said they plan to reopen the space as Sunflower Cafe and Bakery, keeping the same staff from Le Soir. 

Janina, who is also known by her nickname, Jasia, said that she and her husband went into the restaurant business shortly after they were married in New York City in 1975. Janina had front-of-house experience and had attended culinary school while Michaël had classically trained to cook in France. They had a shoestring budget and even lived on the second floor of the restaurant for a couple of years. At the time, there was a vibrant French community of chefs in New York City, but less so on Long Island, and it was impossible to source many ingredients, including the French wines. 

“From when we started, it’s day and night. What happened with food not only on the Island, but in the city, in the world,” Janina said. “It’s unbelievable now what you can get. All the excellent cuisine that you have.”

The new owner, Hansen, has worked in the food industry for 25 years, most recently owning a catering company, The Potted Palate. She searched for several years to find the perfect space for her first restaurant. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine, and now Kathrine's, to open a French cafe,” Hansen said. “There’s so much charm. I’ve been looking for so long, I could never go into a strip mall. There’s something very special about being in a building with history.” 

Hansen is a resident of Stony Brook and fell in love with French food years ago while living in Paris, where she went to fashion design school. She says her cooking style incorporates many herbs from the garden, such as rosemary and herbes de Provence. 

“It’s going to be flavorful, colorful,” she said. “Our vision for the space is to bring it to where cafes are now today in Paris, where you go in and the proprietors express themselves. Not only can you get baked goods and sweet things. You can also buy different things that they make, delicious jams that we make in-house.”

But she'll also be keeping some of the staples of the Le Soir menu, like the duck l'orange, but with her own twist. Le Soir's pate for example, was previously more sliceable country pate d’campagne. But now it will be served more like a mousse, with sauteed mushrooms and croutons. The menu also has dishes such as Nicoise salad for lunch, vegetable ratatouille, escargot and lobster with roasted vegetables. Sunflower also plans to put on a Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve dinner service. 

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