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St. Pete Beach cafe finds new home after Starbucks, lease dispute

Café Soleil isn’t going far and could reopen by early next year.
 
Lauren Chezaud, owner of Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, serves coffees to customers Sheryl Arbo, of St. Pete Beach, right, and Emily Hagan, of St. Pete Beach, on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the cafe at St. Pete Beach.
Lauren Chezaud, owner of Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, serves coffees to customers Sheryl Arbo, of St. Pete Beach, right, and Emily Hagan, of St. Pete Beach, on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the cafe at St. Pete Beach. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2023|Updated Dec. 2, 2023

The award-winning Café Soleil is staying on St. Pete Beach.

The beach town staple found a new place to operate that’s less than a mile from its original home at the Dolphin Village shopping center.

In November, Café Soleil announced it secured a location in a shopping center across the street from the TradeWinds Resort. Owner Lauren Chezaud said she plans to reopen the restaurant at 5501 Gulf Blvd. by January — pending construction delays.

“We really feel that St. Pete Beach is home,” Chezaud said. “We have customers coming every single day for the last 10 years. And we feel that it was really important to stay close by because we’ve been successful thanks to our community.”

In September, community outrage sparked after Café Soleil announced it was leaving Dolphin Village. The St. Pete Beach shopping center run by Brixmor Property Group includes a Publix, Dollar Tree and Starbucks.

Ellen Poussard, left, and Barat Wilcox, (both) of South Pasadena, visit while enjoying coffees at Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, which remained open on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the Dolphin Village shopping plaza at St. Pete Beach.
Ellen Poussard, left, and Barat Wilcox, (both) of South Pasadena, visit while enjoying coffees at Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, which remained open on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the Dolphin Village shopping plaza at St. Pete Beach. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The French restaurant — which Yelp listed as one of the nation’s best places for croissants — was set to expand into a bigger location within Dolphin Village. But that never happened as lease negotiations soured. Chezaud said in September that the landlord pressured her to change the menu so it wouldn’t compete against the Starbucks a few doors down.

After 10 years there, Chezaud had to find a new home for her business.

Berry tarts, available at Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, which remained open on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the Dolphin Village shopping plaza at St. Pete Beach.
Berry tarts, available at Cafe’ Soleil French Bakery & Deli, which remained open on Thursday, Sep 21, 2023, at the Dolphin Village shopping plaza at St. Pete Beach. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

It’s not uncommon for major chains to have noncompete clauses with shopping centers. Representatives for Brixmor and Starbucks denied that it pressured Café Soleil to change the menu ahead of signing a new lease or tried to push them out.

But now, Chezaud said she’s excited to start a new chapter at a shopping center that’s locally owned.

And it’ll be in a space nearly twice the size of the cafe’s first location.

“It’s really giving us the opportunity to bring in something different to complete what we already have and to just be more creative,” she said.

Chezaud said she’s planning to expand the menu with more French pastries and building a bar for French wines or brunch mimosas. She’s even considering a new trend she spotted in Paris of stations where people can make custom chocolate mousses or creme brulees.

While she debated relocating to downtown St. Petersburg or another Pinellas County beach town, Chezaud said she wanted to stay close to the community that supported her through difficult times.

“With the challenges we’ve had to deal with the last month,” Chezaud said, “there was no way we were going elsewhere.”