Camilla Marcus is the founder and chef of West-Bourne, which was formerly one of our favorite plant-based restaurants in New York City (also loved by Vogue) before the pandemic devastated the hospitality industry. Since then, the beloved neighborhood establishment pivoted to selling delicious and wholesome pantry provisions like Pistachio Dukkah, which you can shop from your sofa. Camilla puts her money where her mouth is—in addition to being an angel investor in hospitality-adjacent startups, she is a founding member of ROAR New York, which is a coalition of New York-based restaurants that provide cash assistance and advocacy for restaurant workers, and a co-founder of TechTable, which brings together technology and hospitality players for industry transformation. During the pandemic, she and her family—including her two Cockapoos, Teddy and Charlie—relocated from New York City to Los Angeles, where she grew up. The dogs recently welcomed their second human sibling—Camilla’s first daughter—into the family. Read on to find out how they became BFFs with her son, and why she doesn’t actually cook for her pampered pups.
Did you always know you were a dog person?
I did. In fact, I remember very distinctly being about four or five [years old]. I’m the youngest of three and I shared a room with my brother for my entire childhood. My mom sat us down and said she was thinking about having a fourth kid, and I went ape. I was like, “No way—we don’t have space. We should get a dog. Not another child!” I threw the biggest tantrum. So, that’s how we started having dogs. We got a Wheaten Terrier named Rocky when I was five. After she passed, we started getting two dogs at a time. So, we have two Cockapoos.
How did you know that your two Cockapoos, Teddy and Charlie, were The Ones?
I actually really wanted dogs in college. I was homesick and all my college roommates said, “No way. Absolutely not.” Very shortly after graduating and moving to New York, I went to culinary school, and I was on the hunt for a dog. My family has a lot of allergies—not me, but my family does—so I knew I wanted a dog that was hypoallergenic. I also love that Cockapoos are so playful and smart.
We searched high and low and we found this place outside of Los Angeles where we picked out our first dog, Charlie. I wanted a boy dog because Rocky, my first dog, was a boy, but in the 25th hour of our search, my husband said he wanted a girl dog. So, even though both our dogs have boy names, they’re girls. As for Teddy, my mom picked her out of a photograph—and it was love at first sight.
“They can drink from my water bottle, but they can’t eat from my plate.”
How are Charlie and Teddy different from each other?
They’re total opposites. Charlie is very demure—secretively smart, naughty, and unfortunately almost like a human trapped in a dog’s body. She’s too sophisticated for her own good. She’s a queen bee. Teddy’s a puppy. She’s nine [years old] and she acts like she is two—very high energy and playful.
What was it like raising dogs in New York and running a restaurant? As many people know, chefs have odd and grueling hours. How did you find the balance?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. When I had my son, people were like, “Don’t your dogs get ignored?” I’m like, no! I love them even more. Charlie would sit right next to me while I breastfeed every day. It’s love and companionship that just has no other parallel in your life. You just make time and you have to be honest with everyone you work with—tell them you have to run home and walk the dogs or let them out.
We’ve been lucky. Our dogs are older—Charlie’s 13 and Teddy’s nine. Most of our friends grew up with these dogs, too. We’ve always had a village around us in New York who loved them and would help in a pinch.
I travel a lot with them. They’re both emotional support animals. Both of them have been all over the map. We take the baby absolutely everywhere, too! It takes a village. You can’t expect to do it alone, but you’d be amazed how many people are willing to help.
You’re pretty open about calling yourself a dog mom on Instagram. Do you consider your dogs part of the family?
110 percent. Even before my son was born, we would spend a lot of time with the dogs in the nursery, giving them treats and playing with them in there. We gave a baby blanket to a friend who was staying with the dogs while I was in the hospital, so they got used to his scent. When we came home, I actually went into the house first without the baby. My mom was there, and I told my mom to bring the baby in. To a dog who can’t communicate, this is a new entrant to our family. If I’m holding the baby, it feels like they’ve been replaced.
My mom brought the baby in, and put the baby on the floor, and the dogs spent a couple hours with the baby. I think people really forget that dogs are like permanent babies. You have to take them out to the bathroom, you have to feed them. I think of my dogs as infants. Charlie and Teddy have such a special bond with my son because of that—they really think of him as part of their own pack.
Those are great tips for introducing a baby to your dogs.
People don’t mean to, but I think there is a lot of anxiety around a dog adjusting to a baby. Look, animals are very perceptive beings. If you’re nervous, they’re nervous. When you don’t let them into the nursery or don’t let them touch the baby, they’re afraid of the baby. Charlie would sit in my lap while I breastfed. I always had my son napping in the open in a bassinet. We wanted him to be accessible to them, and for them to feel comfortable. Infants are very fragile, but so are our dogs. You can’t sit them down and say, “Hey, a baby’s coming home.”
You have to show them through other cues that this is your family now—and you’re going to do it together. A lot of times, dogs get banished to some extent. I’m probably crazy, but I did a lot of preconditioning. We have our son give the dogs their medications. We taught our son how to pet really gently. And now, he’s learning to kiss them. It’s about integrating them together. A lot of people don’t want dogs in the nursery because of germs, but if you don’t let them in the nursery, they see the baby as a competitor. You’re asking them to adjust to something they don’t understand!
Are your dogs protective of your son?
Charlie, in particular, we call her Nana, like from Peter Pan. When we brought our son home, she did not sleep. She would not leave his side. And she’s old! But she was obsessed. She’s his guardian. Even now, she follows him around.
Our dog trainer really emphasized that the dogs need to see the baby as human. You don’t want dogs to be the alpha. Otherwise, there’s going to be a territorial problem. We had a small phase last summer when the baby started crawling and being more independent, and you could tell that the dogs were thinking, ‘Wait, wait, wait—why is he moving?” I think people need to be proactive and think about the dog’s experience.
I hired the dog trainer before our son was born. She helped us with preparing for various behaviors. For example, barking sounds different to a baby than to us. Or when he started crawling, they would corner him and start barking. That’s them showing dominance and you need to flip the script very quickly before it’s impossible to fix. It’s like family therapy.
I think of my dogs as infants. Charlie and Teddy have such a special bond with my son because of that—they really think of him as part of their own pack.
That’s so smart, and such great advice to hire a trainer to help with the family adjustment. You have great style, too. Are there any dog accessories that you like?
I love Found My Animal. We just upgraded to these beautiful tan collars from Jenni Kayne. My friend also made these collars that look like friendship name bracelets with colored beads. I used to put Charlie in dog clothes when she was very young. She was just so cute! But the dogs don’t love clothes. They like to be wild and free.
Do you have any tips for training your dogs into becoming good travelers? Or are some dogs just born for travel?
Look, I think everything with dogs starts young. The older they get, the harder it gets to change things drastically. We flew Charlie nonstop when she was a puppy, and same with Teddy. We don’t feed them or give them water before getting on the plane. It’s not fair to ask them to hold it in for that long. We pack treats so they’re not starving, but they’re not really eating. Packing toys also keeps them calm. It’s honestly like traveling with a child! I think the dogs really prepared me for traveling with children. Honestly, our dogs are on their best behavior on planes. It’s like they’re onstage.
It’s important to read your dog’s energy. Charlie and Teddy sleep with me on planes. Sometimes, we’ll sleep face to face. I’ve had fight attendants say, “I’ve never seen that before. You’re so cute!” Make it a joyful and and calm experience for them.
Where have you traveled with Charlie and Teddy?
We’ve never done international because I don’t want to deal with the quarantining thing, but all over: Chicago, Miami, Colorado, San Francisco, Seattle. If I could bring them to every meeting and to hang out in the restaurant, I would, too.
How has the pandemic adjustment been for them, especially knowing how great they are at adjusting to travel and new family members?
They’ve been in heaven! They sit on my lap on almost all the Zooms. I feel like most animals are winning during the pandemic.
Has their grooming routine changed in any way?
We had a great groomer in New York City. Now, we have a great one in Los Angeles. They get baths every two weeks—or we did it ourselves—and they get haircuts once a month. When you have dogs with hair, you have to maintain it. It’s not fair to them otherwise. We get their teeth brushed and their ears cleaned regularly because it’s so important for longterm health. Charlie especially loves swimming. She gets into the pool during our son’s swim lessons. I’ve trimmed their faces so that they couldn’t see, but I’ve never done a full trim. I’m not that talented.
Do you have a favorite shampoo or conditioner for the dogs?
Dog skin has a similar pH level to baby skin, so that makes sense. What do you consider to be your biggest extravagance for Charlie and Teddy?
We do private cuddles with each and every one of them every day. I try spend a good amount of time with each of them.
Since you’re well-known for your beautiful, great-tasting food, what do you feed your dogs?
Our dog walker once asked if I’d buy homemade dog food from her. It’s not that I don’t want them to eat it. It’s that we travel a lot. I like kibble because it goes in my purse. We feed Natural Balance and we crumble Dr. Becker’s Bites on top.
I like all these new businesses that cook real food, but it’s really hard on our lifestyle. Our dogs are older, too. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. They’re very healthy and in good shape for their age. I feel nervous about switching things when they’re working. Teddy gets seizures and Charlie has an incontinence problem, so they take medicine every day. We’re old-school in that way. I like that I can put my son’s food and the dogs’ food in my bag.
In an alternate timeline, I would prepare beautiful meals for my dog. But you need to be honest about your personal bandwidth and lifestyle. This is just one more thing I cannot handle.
Do you ever feed them vegetables that you cook?
I don’t! Our son feeds them anything off his plate, and apparently that’s good for bonding, but we try not to feed them people food. I don’t want them begging for things. They can drink from my water bottle, but they can’t eat from my plate.
Photography by Hannah Choi