Why I Can’t Stop Snacking on This Togarashi Crunch
West~bourne, the new pantry line by Camilla Marcus, is as tasty as it is transformative.
It’s been a while since I discovered a snack so good, I had to begrudgingly pace myself because finishing the bag all in one go would mean days spent without it.
West~bourne’s Togarashi Crunch is a divine combination of corn crisps, smoked almonds, kettle-puffed rice, and chili-rubbed quicos. It’s tossed in a spice blend inspired by togarashi, the ubiquitous Japanese table condiment, but makes use of more global ingredients, like urfa and espelette peppers. This fancy Chex Mix, which is derived from the furikake renditions in Hawaii, is crunchy, smoky, and the right amount of greasy—a savory snack lover’s dream.
The Togarashi Crunch was a fan favorite at the zero-waste West~bourne restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo, which closed down after the onset of the pandemic in September 2020. But Chef Camilla Marcus figured out a way to retain the restaurant’s mission-driven spirit, with a line of plant-based provisions inspired by the original menu. The pantry essentials, which include everything from spice blends to pancake mix, come in fully compostable packaging and are available exclusively on the website.
The West~bourne products are inspired by Marcus’ Los Angeles upbringing, which was defined by fresh produce, global flavors, and sustainable living. “We were regularly shopping at farmers’ markets before it was commonplace,” Marcus says. “Growing things at home, thinking about our impact on the environment—that was very much a part of everyday life.”
In fact, Sandy Gooch, the natural foods entrepreneur who paved the way for stores like Whole Foods Market, lived on Marcus’ block. “Seeing where health and natural food was going at such a young age, I didn’t realize how much I grew up in a bubble until I went to college on the East Coast,” she says.
Another hit on the West~bourne lineup, Fuyu Persimmon Butter was created with family traditions in mind, since Marcus grew up eating fruit-based butters around the holidays. “My dad worked in Japan most of my childhood, and I loved persimmons,” she says. “They’re a very daunting fruit for people to cook with, even though they enjoy eating them.”
The elegantly spiced spread, which is great on scones or sliced apples, epitomizes Marcus’ strategy—taking a nutrient-dense, somewhat niche ingredient, and making it approachable.
When Marcus was 22, she got her first gig in the restaurant industry, as an intern at New York City’s Dell’Anima. Her environmental mission began early on, as she implemented the restaurant’s first composting program, as well as an energy efficiency plan for their electrical system.
Marcus notes how other industries, like retail, were quick to move towards conscious capitalism, but food and hospitality had always lagged behind. “And yet, we make more purchase decisions about what we eat and drink in our daily lives than anything else,” she says.
West~bourne products are labeled with tree-free paper, opting for an unbleached, sugarcane variety. Pouches are made from wood cellulose rather than plastic, and jars are sourced from local, family-owned businesses who specialize in carbon-friendly glass—ideal for reuse. Everything is packed with recycled boxes and stuffing.
And on top of that, Marcus works with the Garcia River Project to keep West~bourne’s carbon footprint neutral. “No matter how zero-waste or carbon-neutral the product, if you’re getting something at your door, it’s taking up carbon. We’re reinvesting it,” she says. For every product purchased, West~bourne puts money towards the redwood forest preservation and management project in Northern California.
This drive for change also exhibits itself in Marcus’ involvement with restaurant worker activism. As a co-founder of Restaurants Organizing Advocating Rebuilding, ROAR, and a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, IRC, Marcus hopes to lead the charge to save restaurants during COVID-19.
When West~bourne closed down, Marcus wrote an impassioned essay for CNN about the gut-wrenching act of handing over her keys. The core philosophies that defined the restaurant—communal seating to bring neighbors together, scaled down cooking spaces to encourage collaboration—ended up working against her. Not being able to meet operating costs, and receiving no aid, she was forced to shut the restaurant down.
“The country seems to have no clue or consideration that our industry is not only massive, it’s critically important to other jobs, like our supply chain, and our farming system,” she explains. “Lawmakers didn’t seem to pay attention. And yet we’re the second-largest industry in this country next to healthcare. Who do you think was feeding the healthcare workers? Who do you think was risking their lives on subways, getting out of the house when everyone else was staying home?”
Marcus enacted employee-first initiatives even before the pandemic started. She offered her team free childcare. She didn’t hire porters or dishwashers, but instead cross-trained employees across all positions. She worked integrated meditation into pre-shifts. There was an “embrace your side hustle fund,” which gave employees $35 a month to use towards anything that enriched their development—whether that be a yoga class or pottery course—and it still exists today.
Marcus views these practices and her environmental efforts in the same way she does voting, deeply trusting in the power of the collective.
“Think about how much you eat and drink in your life—how much you consume daily to nourish your body. That is very far from a drop in the bucket,” she says. “If all of us made a little bit more of a mindful choice in each of these small decisions, I actually think we could move mountains.”