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June BYOB on East Passyunk closes, a victim of the pandemic

Six customers at a time? It just won't work, says Richard Cusack, chef-owner of the French restaurant.

Chef Richard Cusack and Christine Cusack in what had become the takeout window of June BYOB on April 3, 2020.
Chef Richard Cusack and Christine Cusack in what had become the takeout window of June BYOB on April 3, 2020.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Saying it came down to pride or family, chef Richard Cusack has closed June BYOB, the classic French BYOB that he and his wife, Christina, opened in August 2019 at 1911 E. Passyunk Ave. The spot formerly was Will BYOB, owned by Chris Kearse, now of Forsythia in Old City.

Cusack blamed the pandemic and occupancy restrictions. At 25% occupancy in the cozy storefront, he said, he would be able to seat only six patrons.

Things initially were looking up for the Cusacks — she a trained sommelier and he a veteran of such destinations as Daniel, Bibou, Le Chéri, Parc, and Le Bec-Fin.

» READ MORE: Some of the Philadelphia-area restaurants that have closed in 2020.

In a two-bell review in January, Inquirer critic Craig LaBan called June a restaurant “definitely worth cheering for.” LaBan did mention June’s “daunting prices” and “decidedly retro take on French cuisine” as he wondered about its impact — two potential strikes against a restaurant even without the dire economics of the pandemic.

But then came the shutdowns, which seemed to affect smaller restaurants especially hard.

In April, he told The Inquirer: “At this point, I am trying not to [outwardly] panic. I’m trying to be happy. It’s a really eerie and bad time. Since I can’t control that, I might as well do something fun, to try to get through this. On the inside I am panicking. I don’t know how I’m going to keep this going or what’s going to happen. But if I keep worrying about it I am just going to stress myself out. My idea was that people want comfort food now. And I didn’t think that foie gras and truffles would be a hot seller. So I figured I do Asian fusion this week. Last week, I did pastas for $5 and little chickens, just to feed the neighborhood. So next week, I might do that again. I don’t know. I’m still deciding on which direction to go with this. It’s kind of hard. But in the meantime, we’re just trying to have fun.”

In early May, he told The Inquirer that he would not consider reopening “until the government constructs a smart and sturdy plan with rules and guidelines.”

» READ MORE: Some of the Philadelphia-area restaurants that have opened in 2020

The Cusacks hung on with takeout until summer. Even with what he called “zero labor cost" — other than his own labor, of course — Rich Cusack then decamped to the Jersey Shore to take a cooking job so he could make the rent and his mortgage, he said.

He tried redoing the business model, “but it didn’t make any sense. I have no liquor license. I asked myself, 'Do I give up my pride or watch my family struggle?”

He and his wife have been doing pop-up events. He said he would honor gift certificates at pop-ups or a future restaurant.

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In the meantime, Kearse — on the hook for the lease — is seeking a new occupant.