Westbourne, a new all-day café situated on Manhattan’s Sullivan Street, opened its doors to the public earlier this month. Restaurateur Camilla Marcus, formerly director of business development for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and the cofounder of TechTable, dreamed it up as the kind of cozy neighborhood café you frequent daily for your morning coffee, as well as the place where you wind down with friends after work over a glass of wine. “We like to say it’s like inviting someone into our home, and it’s hopefully the greatest dinner party you’ve ever been to,” Marcus says of the 28-seat space designed by L.A.-based firm Studio Mai.
It’s also a dinner party that’s “accidentally vegetarian,” unmarked by the typical V and GF labels you’ll see on menus elsewhere. “People always feel it has to be a trade-off, but food can be curated and affordable without being dumbed down and boring,” Marcus explains. “That’s why we call it ‘accidentally vegetarian.’ Our goal is that you leave and think, Oh, yeah, I didn’t have meat and I didn’t even think about that.”
Overseen by culinary director Amy Yi (previously of Jean-Georges and Upland), the food was inspired by the restaurants Marcus frequented as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, like Urth Caffé and Nate’n Al. For example, “the Echo tacos are a nod to all the amazing old-school taco joints I used to go to in and around Echo Park,” Marcus explains. “Each [item] is a nod to all the things I grew up with, most of which are not fancy, just Southern California classics.” There are also custom pies from Four & Twenty Blackbirds (including Cali citrus and apple pan flavors) and a selection of artisanal organic teas and coffees, plus beer and wines from California (including some from Scribe Winery in Sonoma and Broc Cellars in Berkeley). It’s all on offer all the time, starting at 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night.
From the menu to the staff training to the day-to-day operation, Marcus is doing it all a little differently at Westbourne. There’s preservice staff meditation, health insurance for every employee, and generalist cross-training (every employee gets hired as a team member instead of having a specific position, meaning everyone is responsible for knowing how to do each task in the restaurant).
“I was thinking about the labor dynamics and the issues that restaurants have started to face in recent years—you have to invest in solving the problem yourself. How do we create a long-term solution?” Marcus explained. “This is one of the last industries where you really don’t need a certain education or a certain background in order to get a job in the business. You just need to have a real passion for taking care of people and a strong work ethic. It’s a viable career with a really low barrier to entry, and we have a real responsibility to value that.”
Marcus teamed up with the Robin Hood Foundation and set out to create a staffing program for Westbourne that honors those values. They ultimately decided to partner with The Door, an organization just down the street from the restaurant the supports local job training and youth development services, with 1 percent of every purchase from the café benefiting The Door. Marcus also hires employees through The Door: Fifty percent of her staff has never worked in a restaurant, and for about a quarter of the team, it’s their first-ever job.
Marcus got her start in the restaurant business working at Dell’anima in the West Village before joining Tom Colicchio’s team at Riverpark, then Meyer’s USHG (she also has her culinary degree, and a J.D./M.B.A. from New York University). She has seen plenty of the issues facing the industry firsthand. Westbourne proves her commitment to an updated model, from its community-minded staffing to the nonchalant meatless menu.
“For me, it’s about not being afraid to rethink everything,” Marcus says. “I am doubling down on the fact that people are special and if you nurture them, care about them, take a chance on them and train them, then good things will happen. You can say that’s very L.A. of me, but I really do believe in it.”
Here, she shares the recipe for her Westbourne Chocolate Cashew Pudding exclusively with Vogue:
CHOCOLATE CASHEW PUDDING
4 oz. Chocolate Cashew Pudding
1 oz. Cacao Corn Nut Crumble
When ready to serve, garnish the premade chocolate cashew pudding with cacao corn nut crumble.
Cashew Date Milk
Yield: 800 g
200 g cashew
10 pitted dates
600 g water
80 g honey
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
The night before, combine the cashews, pitted dates, and water in a container. The next day, warm up the contents of the container in a pot, and puree with the additional ingredients in a Vitamix.
Make sure the power setting is on low before you begin. Blend on low, and gradually increase speed to high. Continue to blend until completely smooth.
Chocolate Cashew Pudding
Yield: 10 portions x 4 oz. each
180 g Valhrona Caraibe Dark 66% chocolate
180 g Valhrona Jivara milk chocolate
900 g cashew date milk, warm
Combine milk chocolate and dark chocolate in a dry metal bowl and place over a pot of boiling water. Make sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Gradually allow chocolate to melt. In the meantime, heat cashew milk in a pot just below simmer. When chocolate has completely melted (no lumps!), you’re ready to add the chocolate into the cashew milk.
Pour the cashew date milk into the Vitamix and blend on low. As the milk is blending, slowly pour the melted chocolate into the vortex. Blend until completely incorporated, increasing the speed as needed.
Immediately pour into bowls and allow to set in the fridge until ready to serve.
Cacao Corn Nut Crumble
500 g corn nuts (quicos)
200 g Valhrona Caraibe Dark 66% chocolate
Add the corn nuts to the robot coupe and pulse in two batches. Using a tamis, tap out the smaller pieces, including the dust.
Melt chocolate in a dry metal bowl over simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Fold in the corn nuts and mix until the chocolate cools and starts to crystallize. Spread the corn nuts on parchment and let cool in the fridge.
Once cooled, break up the chocolate-covered corn nuts and pulse them in the robot coupe in batches to your desired consistency.