NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — Clare Hussain said she’s so happy to have finally added a bar to RUNA Bistro.
Before renovation work, she settled for a mock coffee stand a few feet back from the threshold. Now, she’s able to add even more complex offerings for customers at her “bespoke restaurant” near the end of Plattekill Avenue.
Sitting at the bar flanked by local wines and spirits chosen by her bar manager, Carolyn Reeves, she said her French-inspired bistro had to fight to make it this far.
Hussein said she grew up between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh before coming to San Francisco in the late 1990s and meeting her eventual husband. She said she moved to New York City in 2004 and started visiting the Catskills shortly thereafter. Hussein permanently moved to the area in 2017 with her family, she said.
RUNA Bistro opened its doors in late 2019 months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Gosh, I mean it was my first time owning a restaurant [or] opening a restaurant,” Hussein said. “I’ve managed restaurants and all that stuff but it was already very overwhelming opening a restaurant, but between Ryan and myself we sorta kicked asses and got things going and learned so much along the way.
“Once we opened doors things were going great and then late January there started being some whisperings of Covid,” she added. “It didn’t dawn on us that it would hit us the way it did but in early March I started thinking this is gonna become a serious thing and then we actually closed. We discussed the necessity to close doors before the executive mandate just because everybody was freaked out. I try to work in an environment where my team (is) feeling comfortable and safe and you could see it wasn’t that.”
She said she started panicking over making payroll as the lockdown extend beyond what she thought would be two weeks.
Eventually, Hussein said, she and the staff started to provide takeout meals but closed their doors in May when things slowed down. She added that they made plans to reopen for outdoor service in the summer months.
“We were just not established enough,” Hussein said. “We were only six months born at that point and people did not know us. There were still a lot of scared people out there that didn’t even feel comfortable eating outdoors.”
She said that after the money from a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan ran out, she had to close RUNA Bistro indefinitely. Head chef Ryan McClintock left to find work as a result.
Hussein said she reopened by herself months later, serving sandwiches, soup and treats as well as providing cook-at-home kits for people to order on Fridays.
Describing her logic at the time, she said, “I just woke up one morning and was like, ‘I don’t feel in control and I can’t continue to be this depressed mother and this depressed wife and this depressed semi-business owner and made a decision to start from the very, very beginning.”
Things began ramping up after that, she said, and she began hiring and operating a full restaurant with the help of local students and family. The hours were limited but she said RUNA was growing in popularity.
Later, McClintock stopped by at random and asked if she needed an extra hand around the restaurant. He ended up rejoining the staff and Hussein said that she eventually promoted Reeves to assistant manager and head bartender. RUNA began operating with expanded hours.
Hussein said RUNA’s menu is an exploration of places France has touched, with influences ranging from the Mediterranean Ocean to the coasts of India on her ever-changing menu.
She said French classics like the escargot and duck confit are popular with walk-ins searching for the French bistro experience. Hussein’s menu, however, also features merguez meatballs, a North African spiced lamb dish, and Gambas al Ajillo, a Spanish tapas dish headlined by garlic-infused shrimp.
The restaurant’s dining area is small but not cramped and is guided by a black-and-white color scheme. In warmer months, diners can eat outside on a patio complete with a fire pit and occasional live music.
When asked about the future of RUNA Bistro, Hussein said that given all the restaurant had been through and all that it has managed to do so far, “we’ll play it by ear.”
RUNA Bistro is located at 10 Plattekill Ave. in New Paltz. It is open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Recipe for Gambas al Ajillo
Blitz 10 confit garlic cloves with one cup of good quality olive oil and then add three tablespoons of Aleppo pepper or chili flakes.
Drizzle generously with three tablespoons over six large jumbo prawns with a pinch of sea salt and pepper and then pop in an oven for six to seven minutes at 450 degrees and then top off with one tablespoon of preserved lemon.
To make preserved lemon, wash four lemons, slice in quarters, drizzle with one tablespoon of sugar and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Place in a glass jar with one teaspoon of fennel seeds, cumin seeds and one bay leaf. Top with a half-cup of lemon juice and enough olive oil to fill the jar and seal and store on a window shelf in the sun. Turn the jar upside down every day or two to make sure the lemons are getting macerated. After a week or two, they will be ready to dice and use on all your favorite dishes.