Like many business owners, Richard and Christina Cusack were impacted by COVID-19. The co-owners of June BYOB had originally opened their doors in Philadelphia, but health restrictions caused them to endure the fate of many others — shutting down.
“After five months COVID hit, so then I had to pivot and do takeout food because my dining room was so small. It just didn’t make sense to even open,” said Richard. He noted that social distancing mandates made it so his dining room would have been down to the single digits in capacity, so takeout was the only option. However, even that wasn’t sustainable, so eventually he and his wife closed the restaurant and saved up for when they could return to pursuing their passion.
And with restrictions now loosened, the modern fine French restaurant has reopened with Collingswood as their new home. They have been in the town for three months and are pleased to see their customers remaining loyal.
“The customers that came a lot, they returned,” said Richard. “Most of my customers from Philadelphia came back…And I’ve got a lot of regulars in Collingswood now too, so we’re doing pretty well.”
The dishes served at June BYOB have become the reason customers return and Richard names the Trio de Canard as the most popular. As the name suggests, this meal consists of duck served in three different styles, that being a roasted duck breast marinated in red wine, foie gras and a duck leg.
“It’s a thing that was special once, and then it ended up on the menu and I can’t get rid of it,” said Richard. “It’s so hard to take it off, people would lose their mind.”
In regards to June BYOB’s other offerings, Richard says the restaurant has several other signature dishes, but he enjoys changing things up. However, he notes that as his co-owner and wife, Christina, doesn’t allow the menu to vary too dramatically in order for customers to be able to return for their favorite dishes. To compromise, Richard creates many specials and looks forward to different seasonal offerings so he can show off new recipes.
For Richard, there was never any other career he wanted. He began working in his uncle’s kitchen at the age of 14 and, since then, cooking has remained part of his life. Family has played such a significant role in shaping his passion, that he even named the restaurant after his mother, June.
“She was an influence on me liking food,” said Richard. “[When naming the restaurant] I kept thinking of big influences in my life with food. One was my uncle, because I worked for him at the restaurant. Then my grandpa because he was a cook. But then the earliest was just helping my mom out in the kitchen.”
When asked about his choice in French cuisine, Richard admitted that he did have interest in Italian style cooking, but it proved difficult to get in with those restaurants. So instead, he focused on the offerings of a different part of Europe by doing a cooking internship in France.
“I didn’t know the language too well, so whatever they pointed at, hand me a knife, I would just do,” Richard said. “The chef there was very stern and you could feel the tension in the kitchen whenever he walked through.” Despite the challenges of the language barrier and the different culture, Richard attributes his time there for him learning discipline, speed and professionalism.
He also believes people have misconceptions about what French food is like, expecting dishes involving snails and frog legs. “Everyone thinks it’s luxurious with the caviar and everything. But originally, French food was peasant food, and they would just have scraps and make something out of nothing.” According to Richard, those limitations came to define the French palate as an abundance of cream and butter which led to the rich flavors that French food is known for today, leading to hearty meals.
Being able to offer French food to Collingswood has become a point of pride for Richard, as he notes the area has plenty of Italian restaurants. He enjoys the opportunity to offer something different, and deliberately avoids putting pasta dishes on the menu.
Though the restaurant is still new to the area, Richard already has a lot of goals he is aiming to achieve. He says long-term goals are what motivate him, and he has decided that one day he would like to win the James Beard award for culinary excellence. But for the immediate future, he just wants to see June BYOB continue to be successful and for more customers to come in and try their dishes so they can see how good French food can really be.