Soho’s sunny all-day cafe West-bourne is permanently shutting down tomorrow, owner Camilla Marcus has announced. The buzzy restaurant — known for its socially-conscious and employee-first initiatives including offering fully subsidized childcare for staffers — reached an impasse in rent negotiations with its landlord and Marcus was forced to pull the plug on the space.
West-bourne had reinvented itself as a grocery store during the pandemic, selling coffee, spices, California wines, and fresh produce through a partnership with local wholesaler Natoora, but it “wasn’t enough,” Marcus wrote in an op-ed on the closure for CNN.
“Restaurants are universally facing a simple and stark equation: Our income has been cut by 75 percent, but most of our operating costs, including our rent, remain the same,” Marcus wrote. “And, there’s no end of the tunnel in sight.”
Marcus further explained that the restaurant’s core communal features including its small kitchen and shared seating space — built with the intention to promote collaboration — ended up making the spot impossible to reconfigure for socially-distant dining. “Our core philosophies, the very reasons I opened it, became the reasons we had to shut down,” Marcus wrote.
During its two-year run, West-bourne served up breezy vegetarian meals including porridges, grain bowls loaded with roasted and pickled vegetables, and the popular mushrueben, a vegetarian take on the rueben sandwich. The restaurant was also known as a community-focused spot that donated a portion of all of its proceeds — over $44,000 to date — to the Door, a local youth development nonprofit.
In her op-ed, Marcus lamented the state of the industry and the lack of government support for restaurants during the pandemic. Paycheck Protection Program funds only covered a couple of months worth of expenses for restaurateurs, and there’s no additional federal financial aid that has been announced yet. In that gap, restaurateurs are often at the mercy of their landlords. Some are amenable to working out rent deals during the crisis, while others are not.
West-bourne will be re-opening its doors as a pop-up today and tomorrow only, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., to sell food from its cafe one last time, according to a restaurant spokesperson. The restaurant will continue to operate its online grocery store and its catering division after the space shuts down, the spokesperson says.