Camilla Marcus, west~bourne
Walking into west~bourne, we’re immediately greeted with an enthusiastic smile from none other than Camilla Marcus (@_camillaruth_), owner of the LA-inspired all-day cafe in SoHo. Encouraging us to sit at the end of the natural wood counter, Marcus finishes up with a customer and comes to join us. Marcus received her Bachelor of Science from The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and also holds a JD/MBA from NYU. An individual with experience in private equity, real estate, and of course, the restaurant industry, Marcus’ resume is complete with twists and turns, making her a modern entrepreneur who is proud of doing things differently at every opportunity she gets.
How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
I was a reluctant entrepreneur. It’s scary to come out on your own! My dad said, “You clearly have a lot of ideas, and they seem to be very good, and other people like them.” And I said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” So then, everyday for like a month, he’d write me an email that said, “Just do it” in the subject line. So I started working on it!
And before starting west~bourne, what were you up to?
I had always wanted to cook since I was very young and I cooked for all my friends in college. But, my mom was really insistent on law school. So I made her a deal... if I did well enough on the LSAT, then I would apply and if I got into a good school I would maybe go. I ended up getting into NYU and began studying law. As the three-year program was coming to an end though, I interviewed around and got every door slammed in my face. So I thought of pursuing a JD/MBA, which finally opened some doors in development. I helped develop what became River Park with Tom Colicchio on 29th and 1st, worked in private equity for a semester, got a job at a real estate private equity firm, and then headed up business development for Danny Meyer at Union Square Hospitality Group.
How do you make career and life decisions?
I just always try to read the signs. As long as I’m enjoying the vast majority of what I’m doing then I go that way. You can’t be so set on one thing because you just don’t know.
What was a challenge you faced when starting west~bourne?
I could not get a lease to save my life. I had three failed deals. Horribly failed. Belly flop. Could not be more painful, more costly. People were like, “I can’t believe you’re still doing this!” I thought, if all of this stuff is happening and I still want to wake up the next morning and do this then I think this is the right thing. It took us 18 months to find this location but it all works out for a reason. We definitely found the right spot for us!
How did you build the team that made you successful?
Specifically in restaurants, but in all businesses, it revolves around the people. It’s people and having that click. I can teach anyone anything, but I can’t teach them how to think, I can’t teach them not to have an ego, I can’t teach them how to be open minded, and how to be empathetic.
As an owner, you have to be generalist enough to manage people well and spot talent, but you also have to be a real magnet. You have to care about them and invest in them, and you have to actively pull them for what they need because if they’re not getting it from you they’re going to get it from somewhere else.
What is your secret sauce (figurative or literal)?
Fluid thinking, definitely reading people and hopefully being good with people, and just a very determined optimism. And literal? My new obsession is this thing bomba; it’s chopped up different spicy peppers. It’s like a pesto meets hot sauce and it’s the best thing ever. I put it on everything; it’s not even normal.