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Drop Ins: Chef Camilla Marcus

We believe in the power of routines and finding meaning in the ways we sew comfort into our everyday surroundings. Drop Ins is a series that explores just that, taking a dressed-down look at the lives of people who inspire us.

After stacking up an accomplished resume of work experience throughout New York City’s restaurant and hospitality industry, it seemed almost inevitable that Camilla Marcus would someday open a restaurant of her own. In January 2018, the Los Angeles native debuted west-bourne, an all-day cafe in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, that offered an innovative, yet accessible, menu of feel-good fare. It quickly amassed a devoted fan base of neighborhood regulars who loved for its socially-conscious ethos as much as its rainbow-colored veggie and grain bowls, and mushroom-based Reuben sandwich. 

With west-bourne, Marcus’s mission to give back to her staff and community via equitable pay structures, practicing low-waste-production, and donating to charitable initiatives and organizations, was always meant to extend beyond the ephemeral experience of a meal there. Although she was forced to close its doors last fall, while Covid-19 brought the restaurant industry to its knees, west-bourne’s spirit lives on in the form of an online general store. Marcus, who co-founded ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants) and joined the leadership team of the Independent Restaurant Coalition became one of her industry's most vocal and active advocates. To date, ROAR has raised more than $3 million dollars in cash grants, with its long-term focus on creating government legislation to provide better aid and relief in times of crisis. 

In the meantime, she moved back to the west coast with her husband, son (and eventually, a new baby on the way), a decision that was far from easy, she says. But a year later: no regrets. Marcus chatted with us from inside in her “second home” (aka, her car), to talk about the destabilizing unpredictability of the last year, myth-busting the mystiques of motherhood and breastfeeding, and how saying ‘no’ can be an act of self-care. 

So you’ve been in LA for almost a year now. What precipitated the decision to move?

You know, the pandemic started in March and my son was only six months old. We were sheltered in place in our apartment, and he was just learning to crawl; he was going to walk soon thereafter. When the parks are closed, you don’t have a backyard to go out into—we didn’t have any of that—it’s like, what do you do with a child? 

The move to Los Angeles was always our dream, but not even in the game plan for at least another five years. We were going to have to move, no matter what, to have some sort of outdoor space, and we were like, ‘Well, if the next couple years our plan was to move from New York back to Los Angeles, it just seems stubborn not to do it now.’

Was that a difficult decision, professionally, especially with the restaurant still open?

It was the first time I’d say that my personal and professional life was not as tightly aligned. At the time I really didn’t think we were going to close the restaurant at all. But the world continues to change since we’ve been here. 

What was that like for you?

Pretty destabilizing. I’m someone who’s very instinctual, and just sort of goes with what I feel in the moment, so it was destabilizing in the sense of not knowing which decision is the right one, and feeling caught between two very different worlds. But in a good sense, also, realizing that it’s ok to make a choice for personal reasons. At the end of the day, our health and our family come first. I’m very passionate about my career and my professional life. You can’t do your best if you don’t feel your best.

I think we imbue a lot of permanence and long-term thinking on decisions, and you know, it’s ok, we don’t have to do that. Especially when the world is so uncertain. It’s ok to make a decision that your heart is telling you is right at that moment—taking one step after the other, versus worrying about where the road leads from the outset.

Especially during this past year, I think women have had to struggle with those difficult choices more than men.  

100 percent—and especially when children are in the picture. We’re seeing the data of this last year, the women take the hardest brunt. 100 percent. There’s always a lot of push and pull between personal and professional—as a chef, as a restaurateur, as an entrepreneur. I felt comfortable after going through a lot of permutations of what I would want and realizing that I actually can do more professionally if my son and my daughter are happier and freer, and have the kind of development and life that I would want them to have during this time. I’d feel less guilty and stressed, regardless of what geographical location I’m in. 

I think we imbue a lot of permanence and long-term thinking on decisions, and you know, it’s ok, we don’t have to do that.
And now that you’ve been there almost a year, how are things? 

I’m so glad we did it. To have a backyard and a beach to go to—and weather being easier—has freed up a lot of bandwidth thinking about how [my son’s] going to safely spend his day. I’m grateful, even though it all started out unscripted.

Where are you in LA?

We’re in West Hollywood, but to add to the chaos of a million changes, we purchased our first home in the Santa Monica Mountains—one of the canyons.  I feel like I do that. I’m someone who, when changes are afoot, just throws it all up in the air—for better or for worse. 

You had your second baby two months ago. What has motherhood been like with two children?

I think the second time around, at least for me, has been a world of difference—much less fearful. I just feel much more confident. You know the different cries, you know what’s going to happen. You know to trust your instinct as a mom, whereas the first time there’s so much learning, so much fear. There’s so much uncertainty. And to see our son—how much it opens up his world, and to see how he’s taking it all in—I think that part’s been pretty magical. 

How have you been taking care of yourself these days? 

With the birth of my second child, it is clearer to me now more than ever that balance is a myth. It’s impossible to do it all, and an important part of my self-care right now is practicing saying ‘no’ and accepting what I can do, rather than dwell on what I can't. I’m someone who has typically said yes to as much as possible, which isn’t sustainable for anyone, and especially for moms. With every opportunity, I try to pause, reflect, and listen to myself, especially as I ease into life as a mama of two. 

Do you have a dedicated AM or PM ritual?

We take coffee seriously in our home. It’s a welcome reminder to take my time, settle in, and set my intention for the day. The smell also reminds me of my mom, and my grandmother who lived with me when I was a kid. They had the same ritual, and it always makes me feel connected to them.

Between a newborn, a toddler, and everything else that’s been thrown into the mix, how do you keep your energy up? 

I’ve been living off the west~bourne x Golden State Papayas Lion’s Mane Tincture. I’m a huge snacker and grazer so we always have dried fruits, nuts, seed bars, and superfood mixes—most often from west~bourne, of course.

Camilla Marcus was photographed on June 18, 2021, by Isabella Behravan at her home in West Hollywood. You can try Camilla's CBD-spiked "Rosa Mosa" here.

Laura NeilsonLaura Neilson NYC-based writer, editor, and professional plan-maker.

Likes: Croissants, mail via post, and coffee in bed.
Dislikes: Emptying the dishwasher, wimpy handshakes.