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Stamford Woman Dishes On Transition From Oh La La Girl To Cafe Owner

Faina Yelensky of Café Oo La La. Photo Credit: Jane Ubell-Meyer
New kale salad at Café Oo La La. Photo Credit: Jane Ubell-Meyer

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Faina Yelensky's mission is to "Live, Love, and Eat." Walking into her European eatery Café Oolala in Stamford, you can't help but feel that spirit.

Aside from the cheery atmosphere, there's the gorgeous, fresh-from-the-oven wholesome food. Breads come in daily from a variety of Yelensky's favorite Manhattan bakeries: rye bread from Orwashers for example, ciabatta from Tom Cat, almond croissants from Ceci-Cela, chocolate croissants from Eli's, bagels from Brooklyn and more.

Soups are made daily from scratch; salads and dressings are made on the premises; and the cafe's diversified signature sandwiches can be panini-pressed. Among the top sellers: Bacon, egg and cheese on an artisanal croissant, which Yelensky said is a forever crowd-pleaser.

New for spring: A citrus kale salad, feta watermelon salad and a parmesan cranberry kale salad with house-made croutons.

The Stamford cafe, which opened in February 2011 and now has four locations, also does a big catering business. Yelensky, a North Stamford resident, draws on culinary traditions from all over the world -- she traveled a lot in the past while working 14 years with Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. Although she likes using exotic flavors, she's also all about using New England resources.

Her culinary skills are 100 percent self-taught.

"Not only did I grow up watching Wolfang Puck, repeating this mission, but it's a true lifestyle for me," she said. As a young mother, she also said preparing wholesome home cooking for her family has always been important.

"That's really where it all began," she said of her neighborhood cafe. "More and more friends, neighbors and family kept asking me to open a local place to enjoy my cooking as I was always making meals for them."

The name for her own place came from Manhattan's Cafe Oh La La in Times Square (now a Starbucks), where she worked for many years as a manager selling specialty coffee drinks and pastry. Because her first name can be difficult to pronounce (it's "Fa-yee-na"), her colleagues called her the "Oh La La Girl."

"Oolala -- one word, no spaces -- means a pleasant surprise," she said. "For myself and for Stamford, I like to think I've created a nice surprise."

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