Peace Corps to... Brunch? Anna Frumes, The Borland House Inn & Restaurant, New York
For our latest F&Be interview, we meet Anna Frumes, owner/manager and chef at The Borland House Inn & Restaurant in Montgomery, New York—about 90 minutes from New York City in the Hudson Valley. Her journey has taken her from California, where she spent her childhood helping in her parents’ restaurant, towards university and graduate studies in science and international business, only to find that her passion remained with the food, family, and cooking.
Hi Anna! Your path to The Borland House Inn & Restaurant has taken a very eclectic route —with stops in academia, research science, and international business development, even the Peace Corps—not the typical trajectory toward becoming a chef and hotel manager. How did you get to upstate New York? Let's see, Peace Corps in Ukraine, studying spiders in French Polynesia, dug for dinosaurs in Montana...not your typical hotelier path? I ended up in New York City for grad school studying international affairs at Columbia but realized it was not what I wanted to do. I found myself wanting to go into the food industry. And honestly, I saw that the future of the food industry in New York was heading upstate, so I started looking for a bed-and-breakfast-style inn with a restaurant. I was looking for one close to the city and in 2014 I found The Borland House Inn & Restaurant.
Was it already a working bed-and-breakfast/inn when you bought it in 2014? It was a turnkey bed-and-breakfast. We bought the property and the business at the same time, technically two different transactions, but they happened simultaneously. We settled in for a few months, and then it took about a year and a half to get the approvals to open the restaurant, which required changing local law.
What made you think the food industry was moving upstate?
In New York City, a massive center for the restaurant industry, all of the fresh produce and vegetables at the farmers’ markets were coming from farms up here.
You were studying international business, but you have ties to the restaurant industry from childhood?
I do. I was born in Northern California. My parents owned a riverside diner— a dinner house, so to speak. They both had full-time jobs on top of it. My father was a judge, my mom was a nurse, and they would finish their daytime jobs, and then go run this restaurant. I basically grew up in a kitchen. And, like any kid whose parents own a restaurant, I got really interested in food early on. I also felt connected to the farmlands nearby growing up. Throughout my life and all of my studies—most of which had nothing to do with the food industry— I was always making money working in bakeries, restaurants, doing all those things that gave me a culinary education—alongside my other education—until I finally decided food is what I'm good at, this is my passion.
But it's interesting that took you quite a while to find that.
It really did. I think I always thought of cooking as my fall-back because I really wanted to explore other things. And all those other things—business, international foods, science— come into play with what I do now. I can do everything I love.
As a woman with feet in both the lodging and restaurant sides, what have been some of the obstacles that you have had to overcome to get to where you are?
There are a lot of obstacles that go into running two businesses under one umbrella—whether it's local laws that have to be addressed to determining your audience.
In the end, having both the inn and the restaurant is probably what has saved us, because even though the inn has an audience that is almost 100% not a local audience, the restaurant is a mixed bag of local and out-of-town patrons.
As we've gone through these massive changes in both industries over the last year, having the two businesses has allowed us to kind of adjust who we're targeting, what we can target, and how we can bring money in. It has been an absolute blessing in disguise. Although running two businesses is a difficult thing to do, the saving grace is that when one isn't doing well—or has a high season and low season— the other one can balance it out.
The past year has obviously been really challenging for everyone in the hospitality industry. Obviously, hotels were closed for a while, how did you adapt the business on the restaurant end?
With the restaurant, I felt like I was building a new business every day. We did take out, we made pre-packaged meals—things that we'd never done before.
Being in the Hudson Valley, we also ended up doing farm baskets. I collected different highlighted products from farms I like and curated them, selling and delivering boxes throughout our low season. This was a completely different business in and of itself. And, although the inn was closed to guests, we got approved to house nurses and doctors who were visiting the area to help out with the pandemic.
Wait, do I hear a baby crying?
Don't worry, Grandma’s got it.
So, is your business also a family affair?
Absolutely. My parents and I actually co-own everything. I'm the managing partner. It's a woman-owned business majority. Every part of my family has participated in some way or another.
Were your parents in California before this? Or were they living in New York?
They actually were living in Spain. They lived in Spain for 10 years after they retired from LA.
Did you bring them out of retirement?
Poor things. I did.
How wonderful for your parents to be able to live and work with their children and grandchildren. Do you have siblings, are they also involved?
I do. Two years ago, my sister moved to the area from California as well. And she's helping me with Mother's Day brunch, so everybody helps. My brother is in Brooklyn. And my sister has grown children, they have children, and they live here now too.
You've kind of created this inn and restaurant as a gathering place and it has, literally, gathered your whole family. I can only imagine the kind of energy that must bring to the community as well.
Absolutely. We're now a big family that's super involved with the community.
You are an active member of the Hudson Valley food scene and on the Hudson Valley Restaurant Week Advisory Board. What change are you hoping to see in the industry and food production over the next few years, particularly for women?
Well, I mean, I would love to see the Hudson Valley— and women, in particular—be trendsetters in both the hospitality and restaurant industries. I see huge growth potential. In addition to that, I would love to see the community grow together. The restaurant industry is notorious for being very cutthroat and competitive, but together we are stronger than apart. People are really seeing that, becoming more collaborative—it’s really something special.
Do you think that restaurants and food—especially as you've been working with the community during the pandemic— helps bring people together?
Yes. There are definitely differences in opinions, politics, tastes, everything—but, to me, that's what makes a strong community. You have to have that diversity to thrive and move forward, always find ways to make something for everybody. Not that my audience needs to be every single person, but I do want to be respectful of everyone's voice and to have that come across in the way that I treat people at my restaurant, the way that I cook food, what I cook—and learn from that. We all have learning to do.
What are your top tips for dealing with your customers — whether it's on the inn side or on the restaurant side—to create an inclusive environment?
One thing to do—and this is very specific to this time period—is to get yourself vaccinated and create an environment where people feel safe and welcomed.
Second, create a warm environment and a comforting menu. Right now, people need comfort. I’ve modified my menu to bring people back to nostalgic foods. This is a common ground. You can hate your family's politics, but if there's nothing else you can agree on, you can agree that my biscuits and gravy are good!
What is your signature comfort dish?
Stuffed French toast. I like to change it seasonally. At this time of year, strawberries and rhubarb are readily available and they're amazing, so we do a strawberry-rhubarb ricotta-filled French toast that's baked. It's like a loaf of bread pudding, but it tastes like French toast!
With a dish like that, it’s no surprise that you were voted Best Bed and Breakfast & Brunch in the Hudson Valley. Do you also serve dinner? Given the choice—brunch or dinner—which do you like more to make?
I love running a restaurant that is a brunch restaurant because I get my evenings with my family, but dinner is my favorite meal to eat and cook. So, once a month, I do a supper club and private dinner. For these, I cater exactly to the people eating—their tastes, any allergies—while also taking liberties to make that menu based on what is available around me. That is my absolute hands-down favorite thing to do.
And when you have your supper clubs, do you collaborate with a lot of local producers? Where do the supper club themes come from?
It's a combination of the time of year, what's in season, and which products I love from the Hudson Valley. For example, in two weeks, we have our May supper club. It’s a mushroom supper club, so I'm working with three different mushroom growers and producers to make a full meal out of mushrooms which highlights that industry. The following month is completely different—it's a Rip Van Winkle theme, which is a story based in the Hudson Valley—and it's going to be a kind of fantasy-like meal. Each month is different and specialized around Hudson Valley producers. We just let our imagination flow! I love it.
Finally, what are your top three can't-live-without things in the kitchen?
My OXO cookie spatula. It should be called the universal spatula because it is perfect for omelets, and eggs, and fish— and everything. It's the right size. Got the right bend. I use it all day every day.
Heavy cream. I mean, there's nothing that you can't make better with heavy cream. You can whip it. You can incorporate it. You can thicken with it. Cream is everything.
Butter, real butter. So, butter and cream, tells you a bit about how we cook!
We can’t wait to join you at your restaurant the next time we’re in New York! That French toast alone will make it worth the drive. Until then, thank you for sharing your recipe.