It’s been a year since Andrea Rizvi created Boomerang Bites, bringing a sweet piece of her native Australia stateside. Rizvi’s bites are a take on the classic Australian ‘slice,’ a traditional layered, tray-baked dessert served at backyard barbecues and family potlucks down under, and the Queensland native’s version has been gaining traction (and devoted fans) in coffee shops in New Jersey and Manhattan.
Rizvi, or Dr. Rizvi—per her PhD. from Columbia in international development—has lived in Hoboken for close to two decades, but spent much of this time working toward her doctorate and traveling to South America and Southeast Asia for the World Bank, where she helped implement infrastructure in developing countries. Wanting to spend more time with with her husband and four sons, aged 10 to 17, she looked for a career change. And when she was home in Hudson County and looking to relax or catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee, she noticed a lack of interesting, fresh treats available in cafes that weren’t overly large or filled with preservatives.
So she downsized her homemade slices, a favorite of friends in their Hoboken community, into bite-sized portions, tested recipes for six months and began taking her creations around to local coffee shops. Rizvi hasn’t fully left her previous work behind, though—a focus on social impact is central to Boomerang Bites’ philosophy.
Read on to learn more about slices, Australian coffee culture and why Rizvi thinks more food businesses need to make giving back a central part of their mission.
TH: For those unfamiliar, what is a slice?
AR: Slices are essentially tray bake cookies, similar to blondies and brownies, but some have up to three layers. Typical flavors and ingredients are dates, oats, chocolate, caramel, raspberry, and a lot of coconut, which is used really widely in cooking and baking in Australia. Slices are so quintessentially Australian, everyone has their favorite and there are such great, flavorful, interesting variations. You can get basic flavors, such as the chocolate caramel, at coffee shops, but they’re more what people bring to family potlucks, with recipes passed from generation to generation.
TH: How are Boomerang Bites different than slices?
AR: When I started out, there were three things I wanted Boomerang Bites to be: to have that Australian home-baked goodness about them, to be smaller than a typical slice and to be made with no preservatives or additives. They’re an indulgence, but they’re portion controlled, natural, artisanal and handmade—for when you come to a cafe at three o’clock wanting some sugar, but not a lot of it. I believe you should enjoy in moderation, have something sweet that’s got sugar and butter and enjoy it, without having too much of it. I don’t think there’s enough of that on the market.
TH: You had a long career in international development. Why turn to baking? What’s the connection there?
AR: I knew Boomerang Bites had to have a social mission. So at least 20 percent of our profits go back to charities. Sometimes I’ll align with national campaigns, but mostly it’s local causes, or I’ll work with a cafe if they have a particular cause they support. In February, I worked with a school teacher in Hoboken to buy books for students at a low-income public school, and before that it was the refurbishment of the YMCA in Hoboken. I really believe that more businesses need to get with the program and give back and that’s how we can start solving some problems in the world. So when I was coming up with a name, we were thinking that boomerangs are very Australian, and the phrase ‘send out goodness and it comes right back’ just came to me.
TH: How do you develop your flavors?
AR: Initially I just went out to family and friends and said ‘send me your best slice recipes.’ I knew I had to have the classic chocolate caramel and I needed a raspberry coconut, which my auntie used to bring to every family event—that recipe I had to pry out of my cousin. I also wanted to have a slice based on the Anzac biscuit, a cookie with oats and golden syrup, that’s another classic in Australia. It was developed during WWI by mums because it could withstand six months before getting to soldiers on the front line.
It takes months to get each recipe right, it’s a lot of trial and error, working and working [out of rented space in Hoboken pastry chef Jennifer Choi’s Sugarsuckle Baking Studio] even just to get them to a consistent height. I also get very particular about ingredients. For my new passion fruit flavor, which is my current favorite, I ended up finding a supplier who gets passionfruit pulp from Florida. And I taste every batch. I’m definitely over-sugared.
The original four were the Anzac-inspired golden oat, the date caramel, the chocolate caramel and the raspberry coconut. Since then, I’ve added the chocolate hedgehog, with homemade nilla wafers that get all crunched up, coconut, nuts and condensed milk; the passionfruit, which has a burst of fresh lemon; and the salted chocolate caramel. I’m also working on a gluten-free slice with apricot and hazelnut and a vegan bite with chocolate, cherry and coconut. My boys, who help me make deliveries, love the simplest flavor, the golden oat, best (though chocolate hedgehog is increasingly popular)—we always have a jar with crusts in the house.
TH: Australian coffee culture and cafes are booming in major cities across the U.S. Why do you think that is? How does Boomerang Bites fit into that?
AR: It’s really interesting to me. The food scene is really cutting edge in Australia these days, it’s developed identity of its own as clean and wholesome, but bringing in flavors from Asia. Our history in Australia is very multicultural, and a lot of Italians, Turks and Greeks who came over in the 60s and 70s brought great coffee with them. Now, New Yorkers and Americans are going for more clean, homemade consciousness about the way they eat and taking time to eat, rather than eating on the go.
I grew Boomerang Bites organically by first going to cafes in Hoboken, and then following the cafe scene and getting Boomerang Bites to store owners as coffee shops open. At Australian cafes, like Maggie’s Farm Espresso in Jersey City and Gold Roast Cafe in Hoboken, I didn’t have to explain slices, since it fits into their whole genre of food. But every cafe has their mix of flavors that sells best.
TH: What’s next for Boomerang Bites?
AR: I’ve grown the business organically by starting small, but as we keep expanding and getting requests, I want to start shipping domestically [Currently, locals can purchase gift boxes online—a box of a dozen costs $20—and Rizvi caters events] as well as expand the number of cafes. I’ve had my product go with people to other places, as far as Los Angeles, and have gotten interest, so I want to start expanding my reach.