Andrea Rizvi, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, always felt passionate about helping others, and it’s what compelled this native Australian to have an engineering career helping to build back underprivileged communities all over the world. But it all changed after two decades when she realized local people solve local problems and wanted to help her Hoboken community. The idea to do that came from making her childhood favorites “slices” —an Australian baked treat similar to a cookie bar but dense, flavorful, and immensely satisfying—where her kids, friends, and other people would rave about their deliciously indulgent, unique taste. Wanting to share them with her community and do good for it at the same time, Andrea started Boomerang Bites, appropriately named because when you send out good, it comes back to you. This socially conscious artisanal bakery donates a portion of every sale to local educational causes, ships slices all over the country, has a thriving catering business, and will open a storefront in Jersey City this spring. We caught up with this mama of four to find out how her business lets her see the best of humanity, what her friends “down under” think of her brand, and the best spot to hike in the state.
Tell us a little bit about your family? I’m originally from Australia, but I came to the US to attend Grad School in Boston, which is where I met my husband, Abid, who is from Pakistan. We’ve been married for 21 years and have four sons, Zak (20), Calum (18), Ryan (15), and Mackean (13). For the past 20 years, we’ve called Hoboken home. We initially tried out Manhattan but fell in love with Hoboken because it’s got the best of both worlds. It’s urban and has the feel of a village – everyone knows everyone else, and it’s very walkable, livable, and community-oriented.
Tell us about your career background? I had my dream job as an engineer at the World Bank, working in international development and infrastructure for developing countries. I would advise on projects to bring water, sanitation, electricity, and roads to underdeveloped communities across the globe. I also got my doctorate at Columbia and became an adjunct professor there. I was passionate about improving the living conditions of underdeveloped communities. Still, things started to feel a little different than they had when I’d first started in the field, and over time, I realized that local people solve local problems, and I wanted to be a part of that. I decided to create my own business, but I also knew that I wanted to give back to the community. With Boomerang Bites, we donate at least 10% of sales to local education-based causes.
What was the “aha” moment that led you to launch Boomerang Bites? I wouldn’t say I had an “aha” moment. Instead, it was more of a puzzle I needed to figure out, and it came together over time. As a businessperson and a mom, I saw a void in the market. When I’d be in a long meeting, 3:00 would roll around, and they would put out trays of giant muffins or large cookies, and even if they didn’t taste all that good, everyone would take one to help them stay alert enough to get through the rest of the meeting. Or I’d see my kids being offered these and other treats at parties, and often they were full of artificial ingredients and weren’t all that satisfying. I’d grown up with “slices” in Australia, and every time I’d bring them to potlucks or gatherings, they were a huge hit. I decided to make this the business because I saw it as an opportunity to make something everyone loved. They’re dense, delicious, flavorful, and satisfying, and I’m very particular about what goes into my slices.
How did you get started on your business? As a business, you are nothing without a great product, so the first thing I did is that I wrote to all my girlfriends back in Australia, where every family has their favorite slice recipes handed down for generations. They generously shared theirs, and I started making boxes of them and giving them out to families here with survey forms attached. And because I’m wired as an engineer, I went about it very scientifically and did some recipe tweaking to suit the American palette.
What has been the most surprising thing about having your own business? I get to see the best of humanity. Right now, a large part of my business is online gifting. I include personal notes from my customers, which are the best. Whether it’s for a celebration, condolence, or just a nice thought, I get to be a part of people being there for each other through it all.
Please share how the pandemic has impacted your business? When I first launched the company in 2017, I intentionally kept it very lean, renting out space on an as-needed basis, so it was helpful that I didn’t take on too much right out of the gate. Then, when the pandemic hit, even though the catering area of our business took a huge hit, we had just launched our online website, so we were able to grow throughout the pandemic. And we have a storefront in the works, which should be up and running this spring. We’ll be sharing our commercial kitchen space with another MOMpreneur and running our two separate businesses from the same Jersey City location.
Does your family ever get involved in your business? My husband is my number 1 supporter, offering great advice and handling bookkeeping. And the boys do as much as they can to help, working farmer’s markets, making local deliveries, and even doing what needs to be done for our new brick and mortar, including cleaning and painting.
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur? I love the freedom of owning my own business. I get to have an adaptable business with a culture that’s kind, flexible, and less bureaucratic than most corporate companies, and a place where people are happy to go to work.
And, what about the most challenging thing? You are never “off,” and every single detail matters.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? I love Babka Bailout, which is one of the reasons I decided to share space with them. The babkas are so moist and delicious. Besides the usual chocolate and cinnamon sugar flavors, she has some very interesting ones that you don’t usually see, like Oreo Cookie, Nutella, and even a fantastic savory assortment. Another business that I appreciate is the Co-Co. I get so much out of it—there’s nothing quite like women helping women, and everyone is so generous. I’m also a big fan of independent coffee shops in general. For the most part, they’re great at engaging their communities. I love so many, including The Hive, a local retail/coffee shop concept that does an amazing job of building a community.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy visiting. We are outdoors people, and we love to hike. The Palisades Interstate Park is really special, especially The Giant Stairs trail, which is stunning. You hike up on the cliff and down by the water, and the views are amazing. Another beautiful place for hiking (and my Sunday morning run!) is the Hudson River Waterfront, which goes through Jersey City, Hoboken, and Weehawken with fantastic views of NYC. And I highly recommend Mile Square Theater in Hoboken. They have great productions throughout the year, and you can buy tickets for the shows that interest you the most.
What’s your best piece of advice for a MOMpreneur just starting? It’s very easy to over-think things, which will keep you from starting. Know that you’ll never have all the answers, and you’ll have to adapt anyway as your business progresses.