Even at the ultrascene-y Beverly Hills Hotel, native Texan Elizabeth Chambers Hammer stands out. With her hair pulled into an effortlessly chic high ponytail, the former model weaves through the hotel’s poolside eatery, past tables of ladies lunching over chopped salads, and then settles into one of the half-moon booths lining the walls. Her enviable arched eyebrows rise over her ivory Céline cat-eye sunglasses as her face breaks into a wide grin, as it often does, and she waves to a pair of acquaintances.
Meanwhile, an equally vibrant albeit more low-key scene is likely happening over a thousand miles away at Hammer’s Bird Bakery in San Antonio, a sunny Alamo Heights hangout that caters to latte-swigging college students, women in tennis skirts waiting for to-go lunches, and kids from the nearby elementary school, parents in tow. Bird’s gleaming display cases are filled with rows of made-from-scratch cupcakes, like the Elvis (banana with chocolate chips and peanut butter icing), as well as cookies, pies, and other treats. Savory options include made-to-order sandwiches and soups.
Hammer, now 36, started the bakery in her hometown in 2012, armed with not much more than her British grandmother’s recipes, worn index cards filled with detailed notes and riffs on her favorite dishes from Junior League cookbooks from across Texas. Four years later, Hammer opened a bigger, more glammed-up second location, in Dallas’s Highland Park Village, where many a photo has been taken underneath the large hot-pink neon sign that reads “Let Them Eat Cake.”
Hammer lives in Los Angeles’s Bel Air neighborhood with her husband, actor Armie Hammer, and their two children, but they are not in California often. As we eat, she discusses her weekend plans, which include heading to Houston to give the keynote speech at a conference for female entrepreneurs and then flying to New York to see her husband before his Broadway debut, in Straight White Men. She’ll miss opening night because she will be on an eight-day boat trip with a gaggle of internet-famous gal pals off the coast of Italy. “I think we were home for a total of eighteen weeks last year,” she says.
It’s been a charmed year for Elizabeth. Just look at her popular Instagram feed. There she is, being carried down a cobblestone street in Rome over her husband’s shoulder, while his Call Me by Your Name co-star, Timothée Chalamet, looks on. There’s the oceanfront wedding in the Hamptons with fellow guests Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello. And the walk down the Oscars red carpet with her husband in sleek his-and-hers Armani ensembles. Elizabeth, whom Vanity Fair called “an emerging lifestyle guru for the Instagram generation,” thrives on letting her 200,000 followers in on her world on a daily basis. “Instagram is a photographic journal, and I don’t mind sharing memories and milestones,” she says.
Her Texas bakeries also revolve around memories. Her grandmother Maureen Carnathan ran a catering company out of her kitchen in San Antonio, and her mother opened one of the city’s first natural-food stores. Although Elizabeth moved away at age two with her mom—first to Houston, then Denver, and then Half Moon Bay, California (where she booked her first modeling gig, at age ten, for the Gap), before going back to Denver for high school—she always spent summers with Carnathan. “She had these huge walk-in fridges and freezers. It was summer in Texas, and being in the kitchen, it was so hot,” Elizabeth says. “I would go in and pick up these handmade shortbreads she made and dip them into her delicious lemon curd.”
Elizabeth attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied broadcast journalism, in part to be near her grandmother. By the time college started, though, Carnathan, who was battling Parkinson’s disease, had moved to Port Aransas to live with Elizabeth’s uncle Guy Carnathan, who owned the restaurants Beulah’s and the Other Guy’s Seafood Cafe. The college student spent many weekends on the coast, listening to stories about her grandmother’s glamorous childhood in London and India, where her father was Gandhi’s personal physician. Carnathan died in 2001.
After graduating, Elizabeth moved to L.A. to pursue broadcasting; her first gig was for Access Hollywood. But she never lost her love for her home state. When our server, who overhears Elizabeth gushing about Texas, says she needs advice because she has never been, but her boyfriend asked her to move there last night, so . . . should she? Elizabeth, without hesitating, replies, “Yes, go! You will never regret it,” and then salts her tuna tartare.
Texas also helped her bond with Armie, who lived in Dallas for several years as a young boy. The pair were introduced in L.A. by a mutual friend when he was 19 and she was 23. They began dating a year later and married in 2010.
Following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of her grandmother and mother, Elizabeth decided to open a bakery. The idea came on a visit to San Antonio to see her dad, who still lives there, when Elizabeth, a self-professed sugar fanatic, realized the city was lacking in cupcake options. She rented the site of a former Piggly Wiggly on Broadway and designed the space herself. When Bird opened, in 2012, people who had known Carnathan lined up, excited to try some of the dishes that she used to make, such as her banana pudding, which Bird uses in a custard, and her signature sugar cookies.
Despite her schedule, Elizabeth makes it back to the Texas bakeries at least once a month. Although she’s working on a cookbook as well as some television possibilities, Elizabeth hopes to open more Bird locations.
“I love how passionate Texans are about food, and there are so many families with stories like mine,” she says. “The idea of recipes dying with a person is devastating to me. They have to live on, and I love that people get to enjoy my family recipes every day.”