Camilla Marcus is one of those people who makes life feel so pleasurable and easy. She works her butt off, don’t get me wrong, but somehow she makes the whole thing seem effortless and beautiful. She successfully created a zero waste restaurant in Manhattan called west~bourne that has now become the go-to brand for plant based, planet positive provisions for the climate conscious generation. She co-founded ROAR (Restaurants Organizing Advocating Rebuilding) and is a founding member of the IRC (Independent Restaurant Coalition).
She and I met at a gathering in Manhattan when she was pregnant with her first baby. She now has three babies under three years old I am so inspired by the way Camilla lives her life - she focuses on creating beauty in a communal and laidback way that makes me want to move to California, build a chicken coop in my backyard, and grow all my own veggies. I hope you enjoy getting to know Camilla!
Our Francisco Striped Rug blending in perfectly in Camilla's cozy home!
CZH: Can you talk to us a little bit about how you got started in the food world and how it led to your current brand, west~bourne?
CM: Growing up in LA, I frequented farmer's markets, used food seed-to-stem, and experienced the important role that food plays throughout the many cultures and communities I was surrounded by. I’ve always been passionate about food, and even as a kid I knew I wanted to go to culinary school. When I got to college, I spent my free time cooking big dinners for friends and exploring Philly’s food scene. To me, food and gathering was, and forever will be, a universal language - the ultimate connector, no matter where you’re from.
I’m still trying to figure out who I want to be, and much of my 20s was spent exploring different jobs, and continuously went back to the hospitality industry. The industry’s amazing people - their selflessness, drive, creativity and ingenuity - was a real magnet for me. Hospitality was an industry that felt like home. While in culinary school, I had the chance to intern at dell'anima. In between implementing the restaurant’s first composting program and energy efficiency plan, I had an “aha” moment. I realized that by merging my law degree, sustainably-minded upbringing and love of food and connection, I could bring a climate conscious, wellness centered brand like west~bourne to life.
Years later, we made it happen. west~bourne , NYC’s first mission-driven zero~waste restaurant opened in 2018, and in 2021, we launched our line of zero~waste, feel-good, mindfully packaged provisions. Always mission driven, we aim to help our community cultivate a pantry that protects our planet while nourishing our health and communities, inspired by the natural bounty of California, so you can eat well, do better and gather often.
Camilla's Garden Lunch with our Hector Woven Napkins and K'un Throw as a tablecloth.
CZH: It was so heartbreaking to hear west~bourne closed during the pandemic. I know you poured your soul into that project and I can only imagine how hard it was to let it go. Can you tell us a little bit about that time?
CM: I look back on that year with both heartbreak and gratitude. Closing the restaurant was very unexpected and shook me to my core, which is not an easy feat. I consider myself an eternal optimist and see the world as glass half full, but that period challenged my inner nature in ways that I’d never faced before. I was also newly pregnant fresh off of an IVF transfer that we completed the day before moving from NYC to LA at the height of another COVID wave, so I was not allowed by my doctor to get back to New York to be present in person when the restaurant officially closed. The turbulence of a difficult early pregnancy, fear that the fertility treatment wouldn’t work, and the stress of navigating such an intense professional maze seemed to all pile onto one another. More than anything, I struggled with the pain of letting my team down, people I care deeply about and worked so hard to protect and take care of the best I knew how during such an unprecedented and precarious time. As I reflect, though, it’s in the friction and what we think are failures that I believe we find the greatest opportunities for growth. While mourning the loss of one road, I worked hard to focus my energy on recentering my priorities, my passions, and my character to forge another path. And, I think I’m stronger and clearer for it.
CZH: Can you talk about ROAR and how that came about? Was this before west~bourne closed?
CM: I’ll never forget the collective despair felt in NYC on March 15th, 2020. Our city had just shut down, restaurants and bars included, with the future uncertain and zero help from our government. With our restaurant industry and beloved teams left without jobs and government support, the activist, lawyer and restaurateur in me jumped into action. Within two weeks of our initial call with Robin Hood - an organization fighting to end poverty in NYC - we teamed up, founded ROAR, and created a cash relief fund for the ~1 million restaurant and bar workers that New York employed. Over the course of the pandemic, ROAR raised over $3 million and provided our city’s hospitality workers with $500 grants. We also worked together to lobby for restaurant workers to get first priority when vaccines were released and to launch our ROAR vaccine bus to facilitate vaccinating our community. Between ROAR in New York State and the IRC which helped independent restaurant owners across the country, we’ve fought tirelessly and daily for restaurant relief on a city, state and national level.
Camilla sets her beautiful table with extra virgin olive oil, flowers & cherries while wearing our K'UN NATURAL HOUSE DRESS (only a few left!)
CZH: I love how California is woven through everything that you make and do, can you talk a little bit about what California means to you?
CM: California is weather that fuels the soul and soil, with its balanced seasonality and vibrant produce that tastes sunshine and feeds an entire nation. California is weekly farmers market trips, learning where our food comes from, how it’s grown, and caring for the people that are dedicated to maintaining the whole, full cycle ecosystem. It’s connectivity, synchronicity even, between its people and its land. California is home, it’s roots, it’s a foundation. Allowing me to endlessly plant seeds and grow in boundless directions.
CZH: I am so inspired by the way you raise a family while also working - what are your tips for how to do both well? I am forever struggling with the balance of it all - I either feel like I am ace-ing motherhood or work but never both at the same time.
CM: To me, the challenge and beauty in life is that we are all on a constant quest; collective works in progress. There's no such thing as “perfect” or “balance,” and relinquishing those constructs - as even a remote possibility - feels liberating. Friction is what makes us human. For me, I find freedom and peace in embracing the many adventures found within the daily journey. Always putting one foot in front of the other in hopes that each step leads to growth and fulfillment. Oh, and an open sense of humor helps quite a bit, too.
Tactically, I do my best to strategically focus my days and cluster different kinds of modes, i.e. blocking mornings for calls and saving Fridays for creative experimentation. Being a working mother means being honest with yourself and transparent with others about what you're grappling with. It helps create space for vulnerability, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the complexities that come with being a working, entrepreneur mom. I also try to be fiercely protective over family time, as well as time for myself to have fun, learn something new, or openly explore and travel. I’ve found that if I’m not my best, most aware and complete self, I can’t show up for anyone else in the ways I strive to.
CZH: Anything exciting coming down the pipeline you want to share?
CM: After over a year in ideation, we launched our sustainable Avocado Oil Set this spring, which includes an Organic Extra Virgin Avocado Oil for drizzling, dipping and finishing, and a Refined Avocado Oil for all your high heat cooking needs - think: grilling, roasting, sauteing and even baking. Early this fall we’re welcoming some very exciting pantry essentials to our thoughtful line-up, so stay tuned.
Thanks so much to Camilla for sharing a glimpse of her life with us! You can follow her on Instagram here and here.
Photography by Nicki Sebastian Photography. You can find her work here.