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Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Camilla Marcus, the chef behind my absolute favorite sustainable, nourishing, and delicious pantry essentials brand, west~bourne, means business. From her years spent running a cult-favorite zero-waste restaurant in New York to her present-day world CPG domination, Camilla is building an empire – and throwing plenty of beautiful dinner parties along the way. Read on for my conversation with Camilla, teeming with her tips and tricks for home cheffing, hosting, and building a business – all while balancing motherhood and prioritizing sustainability.
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Tell me a bit about your path to founding west~bourne. In an industry crowded by new “must-have” pantry essentials, what was the impetus for the brand?
west~bourne was born out of my belief that we can make a positive impact on people's lives and the planet through the way we eat and consume. I founded the company specifically to address the challenges I saw firsthand in the food industry through my roles as both a chef and restaurant owner. And because of my background, our food philosophy is chef-driven. I believe in collaborating with farms that share my passion to preserve our natural resources and grow without compromise using regenerative methods which yield more nutrient rich and delicious foods. I created the company to utilize foods that taste good, feel good to eat, and are good for the planet.
You put it so clearly and calmly, but this is a big endeavor! Can you speak to the challenges you’ve faced in building a DTC brand versus the distinct and unique challenges that come with building and sustaining a restaurant?
We have been blown away by the response to our products. Our demand by grocery stores has been unusually high for such a new company. Buyers are recognizing that we’ve built something that reflects the values of Gen Z. That said, we are currently fundraising because we know that growth can lead to us making an even greater impact. The bigger we are, the bigger of an impact we can make. And building a DTC brand requires a lot of things a restaurant doesn’t…there’s no foot traffic stumbling by on accident. Fundraising for a regeneratively-sourced, zero-waste, carbon-neutral, and female-founded brand in this economic climate has been challenging, but we remain confident we’ll find the right investors who are values-aligned in bringing these products to the masses.
Since the beginning of west~bourne’s first iteration as a restaurant, you’ve been mission-driven — and I think that’s even an understatement. From a zero-waste initiative to offering fully subsidized childcare for staffers, it seems that your core philosophies have always been the first priority. This is no small feat! How has this ethos continued on in west~bourne as it exists today?
The core philosophies of west~bourne have always been centered around sustainability and community – that includes employee well-being. These values continue to guide us in everything we do. We have maintained our zero-waste initiative by sourcing responsibly, using zero-waste packaging, and implementing recycling and composting programs. Additionally, we prioritize the well-being of our team members by fostering an inclusive and supportive work environment that encourages open communication, collaboration, and work-life balance. Despite being a small team and a start up, we believe in honoring mental and physical health with mental health days, flexible PTO, and stipends to support professional and personal growth. Sustainability in all things. Our ethos is deeply rooted in the fabric of west~bourne, and we continuously strive to do better so we can expand our positive impact.
What’s your personal philosophy on sustainability today, particularly as it relates to food? Both with respect to stewarding west~bourne as a CPG brand in an industry that’s often crowded by mindless consumption, and in your personal life?
Sustainability is at the heart of my philosophy, both professionally and personally. At west~bourne, we are mindful of our environmental footprint and strive to minimize waste and promote conscious consumption. We prioritize using organic and locally sourced ingredients, reduce waste by offering fully backyard compostable packaging, are certified carbon neutral, and support regenerative farming practices.
In my personal life, I aim to reduce food waste, cook with seasonal ingredients, and support local farmers and artisans. I believe that small actions can collectively make a significant impact on our planet's well-being. I know it’s hard to find the time to do all of your own research, so it’s important to look for companies who have third-party validators, such as being certified organic or carbon neutral.
Something I love about Gen Z is that they’re obsessed with transparency – they flip over the package and look at the ingredients and the story. Our innovation in material science and packaging indicates to these consumers how much we care about what’s inside the package as well.
I’d love to know what your favorite west~bourne products are — and your favorite way to enjoy them. (The Togarashi Crunch is essentially a mandatory component of every party I throw.)
I'm delighted to hear that you enjoy our Togarashi Crunch. My personal favorite is west~bourne's Refined Avocado Oil. It’s essentially a delicious traditional cooking oil alternative that supports a diverse pantry. We source from an organic orchard in Mexico to harvest the ripest and cleanest ingredients. The Avocado Oil is ideal for high-heat cooking, sautéing, roasting, searing, baking, and pretty much anything else you can think of – while also being zero-waste and carbon neutral. It’s the perfect plant-based substitute for butter.
What are your non-negotiable, must-have cooking tools (and those worth splurging on)?
When it comes to cooking tools, some non-negotiable essentials for me include a good chef's knife, a sturdy cutting board, and a high-quality skillet. These are the workhorses in any kitchen. It's worth splurging on high-quality knives and cookware that will last a long time and make your cooking experience more enjoyable and efficient. Another item I often turn to is a mandoline for perfectly sliced vegetables for those crispy, crunchy salads.
What’s down the road for west~bourne? Are there any collaborations, new products, or longer term visions you can share?
We are currently fundraising to expand into west coast grocery with the goal of moving into national grocery retail next year. And, of course, we’ll always be dreaming up new product creations along the way.
As a founder, how do you take care of yourself and prevent burnout? Any go-to self-care products that are an essential part of your day or week, that help to keep you grounded?
As a founder, self-care is essential. I prioritize taking care of my physical and mental well-being by practicing meditation, exercising regularly, and spending time in nature. In terms of self-care,whether it’s starting the day with clean skincare, a quiet moment with an espresso, or unwinding with a bath, I find it essential to take time to care for myself. As a mama of three, I’ve found you can’t pour from an empty cup. By prioritizing ourselves in both big and small ways I find I can show up better, clearer, and more wholeheartedly for myself and my family.
I’d be remiss not to ask: what are your dinner party essentials? What’s the secret to effortlessly throwing a great food-centric soiree? I’d love to know everything, from your favorite go-to recipe to essential tableware, glassware, beverages, textiles, and centerpieces.
To me, a dreamy dinner party starts with the guests. I love to welcome friends (both new and true) into my home and encourage them to get to know each other. I see food as the ultimate connector and a dinner party as the perfect opportunity to bring people from all worlds together.
When it comes to food, I always start at the farmers market. I go into it with a rough idea of what I’m making, but always end up adapting because of the bounty each of our local farmers offers. The day/night before, I encourage everyone to prep dessert (think: mini avocado oil cakes, made with west~bourne House Muffin Mix or chocolate bark with rose petals, sea salt + bee pollen) and salad dressing (this one’s my go-to for a big crowd). On the menu, I like to incorporate produce seed-to-stem. Making grilling carrots with our Avocado Oil? Save the stems for a pesto and make a bright pasta topped with a sharp cheese. I’ve also been loving grilled grapes for a special side dish that’s uniquely smoky and sweet.
For drinks, I like to make sure everyone has something to sip on – a beautiful natural wine, a cocktail (like our Avocado Oil Martini), and a fun non-alcoholic option, like Ghia, too. Pair them with our Togarashi Crunch and Spiced Goji Berry Crunch for a cocktail hour snack before dinner is served.
I feel many people are pressured into buying things when hosting a dinner party, but I always encourage friends to get creative with what they already have on hand. No need to fuss not having enough of any one set; a mix matched curation makes the vibe even better. Decorate the table with an imperfect linen tablecloth in the middle and mix match cloth napkins in the same color scheme (forever a fan of Atelier Saucier’s sustainably-made napkins). Add in candles of different sizes and styles for added warmth and light. Rethink florals, instead forage branches in your backyard/neighborhood and pop them into vases of all sizes (Olive Atelier has some of my favorites) or clip herbs for mini arrangements.
I’m a huge fan of a natural tablescape – this often includes foraging for branches, yard clippings, or picking some fresh herbs from my garden to complete the scene. You can also eliminate waste by repurposing any unused farmers market produce as a centerpiece that guests can take home as the night ends, and experiment with cooking at home. It’s a great conversation starter, too.
If you have more guests than place settings, ask your loved ones to bring some with them. The more communal the better; I love nothing more than an eclectic table that welcomes all. Lastly, make sure your speakers are charged and a playlist is lined up. Hit play and watch it all come to life.
As for the menu, I believe in highlighting seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. A go-to summer recipe for me is grilled grapes, in west~bourne’s avocado oil. It's a delicious, unique, smokey, sweet side dish that guests are always excited to try.
Speaking of playlists – what songs are on your dinner party soundtrack? And another if you’re having a cozy night cooking at home?
Last Fall, our west~bourne team curated a collaborative playlist with five of each of our all-time favorite hits. When our west~bourne Friendsgiving came around, we asked each of our guests to RSVP with a song they love to play when gathering, and so we added each person’s pick to the queue. The product? A west~bourne + friends playlist that captures the essence of our team and west~bourne village. I play it on repeat, whether I’m dancing barefoot in the kitchen or hosting friends and family for a garden feast.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Have a founder you’d like us to interview next? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.