There’s a new smiling face greeting customers at Country Corner Café since Kelly Hunstein passed the torch Nov. 8 to new owner Jennilee Morris, 27, of Shirley.
It may surprise regulars that Ms. Hunstein, who fought long and hard with landlord Charles Reichert to try to keep the café at its original location just west of Mr. Reichert’s IGA, sold the business so soon after relocating it to the Revco Shopping Center on Route 25.
Mr. Reichert wanted the space to enlarge his own store, the IGA.
“Our children deserve the time” she’d otherwise devote to the café, Ms. Hunstein explained in a telephone interview last week. Between October 2009, when original restaurant closed, and last spring, when she reopened in the new location, her two children, ages 12 and 9,got used to having their mother on the home front, she said.
“They’re the most important things in our lives and now we get to show them,” Ms. Hunstein said, speaking for herself and her Southold Police officer husband, David Hunstein.
Enter Ms. Morris, who has been general manager of Love Lane Kitchen and a partner in its catering business. A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, she studied both cooking and restaurant management, Ms. Morris said during an interview at the restaurant Thursday.
“I’ve always been in the industry,” she said. She credits Love Lane Kitchen owner Michael Avella with developing her own career.
“He definitely opened my horizons and gave me room to grow,” Ms. Morris said. “I miss them with all my heart,” she said of the Love Lane Kitchen family. But she was ready to take the next step and when she stopped at Country Corner Café and learned Ms. Hunstein was looking for a buyer, it was the right place at the right time.
“I got the same warm feeling I got when I walked into Love Lane Kitchen for the first time,” Ms. Morris said. She was struck by the warmth and generosity of North Fork residents, she said, speculating that she might eventually move from Shirley.
She’s not talking about the purchase price, but said she loved how Ms. Hunstein decorated the restaurant and is grateful to her for all of her help in the transition.
“They did a beautiful job here,” Ms. Morris said of the Hunsteins.
She’s not planning any immediate changes other than installing an espresso bar, which makes particular sense because she is also co-owner of the Long Island Coffee Roaster.
“If they like it as it is, why change it?” she said of the café .
The staff who worked with Ms. Hunstein will continue with Ms. Morris.
“They’re teaching me right now,” she said. But she is a big believer in continuing to learn and is hoping to combine with Mr. Avella in offering ongoing training to the staffs of both Country Corner Café and Love Lane Kitchen. For good morale and job performance, “it’s different when you’re learning — and not just showing up,” Ms. Morris explained.
She does hope to expand the café’s dinner menu.
“There’s room to grow there,” she said. And her mother, Carolann Morris, who baked for Love Lane Kitchen, will also put her talents to work supplying baked goods for café customers.
Right now, Ms. Morris is operating the business seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. That could change as she gets to know her customer base, she said.
“My world is spinning pretty quick right now,” she said. “I’m just grateful to be here.”