Brooklyn-born Scott Rivera, known for the celebrated pies of Scottie’s Pizza Parlor, wanted to spend more time exploring his Italian roots. “I have, you know, pizza in my blood, of course. But, over the past few years, I’ve been really trying to connect with that part of my family and history and culture,” Rivera says. He and his wife and business parter Amy Coplen had planned to visit Italy this summer, but the pandemic derailed all that. So, Rivera did what many of us have have been doing this year to pass the time: He started baking.
Tapping into his “pizza obsession”—which Rivera says ultimately comes down to a love of handling dough—led to his further explorations with bread, baking, and his newest venture: small-batch Italian donuts also known as bomboloni, or bombolones; the name of Rivera’s new Italian doughnut pop-up, Bomba PDX, refers particularly to that.
Since COVID-19 health and safety protocols meant that Scottie’s Pizza Parlor would have to reduce its hours, Rivera was given a rare chance to slow down, reprioritize, and try something new and fun on a smaller scale. “I like that the word [Bomba] also in Italian kind of plays on ‘little bombs,’” Rivera says, also pointing out that his donuts are shaped like a classic round cartoon bomb. “Flavor explosion, if you will.”
Rivera says the process of making the doughnuts is similar to that of making pizza dough: you divide the dough and shape it into balls, letting it proof and rest before frying. “I was making these at home and just enjoying them,” Rivera says. “And just over time [started] sharing them with friends and family.... I sort of thought, well, maybe someday I might feel like I have the time and space and capacity to put these out there.”
After setting up an Instagram account (@bombaPDX), where he teases and promotes his fried dough, Rivera has already sold out of his first batch of pre-ordered donuts — coming in boxes of four for $15. The Bomba PDX monthly pop-up series starts on Sunday, November 29, when his customers can pick-up their donut orders from Scottie’s Pizza.
“These donuts were sort of like a fun way to merge my interests in Italian culture and cooking and food with my just love for donuts,” says Rivera, who says has a huge sweet tooth. “Just like with pizza, I sort of feel like the ability to make your favorite food yourself. It’s like such an awesome power.”
On a monthly basis, Rivera will sell brioche-like bomboloni — with assorted fillings or just a dousing of cinnamon sugar — and take pre-orders via Venmo. Two of his flavor staples are a vegan raspberry jam and Meyer lemon curd; the vegan dough replaces eggs with aquafaba, the liquid left when cooking chickpeas.
Rivera continues to experiment with his filling flavors, but his first variety four-pack includes raspberry jam and lemon curd, of course, as well as a salty pistachio cream and London fog cream filling made with vanilla and earl grey tea. He also leans into seasonal flavors: Over the summer, he made a strawberry cream filling with strawberry chunks, and more recently, a blood orange curd filling.
The doughnut’s texture — slightly crispy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside — is due to the choice of frying oil, which Rivera calls a proprietary blend of mostly solid fats that include coconut oil. “The idea is that when you fry — especially a doughnut — with a solid fat, once it cools, the fat solidifies and helps it stay kind of crispy and not so greasy,” Rivera says. “It definitely helps them stay kind of light and not feel like a heavy snack.”
In a pre-pandemic timeline, Rivera says he and Coplen considered opening a second location that would double as a doughnut shop and pizzeria. But with all the new gathering restrictions and public health requirements put in place, the two decided it made more sense to start small as a pop-up for now. While having a new brick-and-mortar would have felt a bit more formal and official for starting his new doughnut project, Rivera says “Just seeing the way that the food industry has kind of morphed and adapted to a lot of these specialty projects that people are just doing in their own capacity… it feels right to just throw [Bomba PDX] out there. Say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do it on a Sunday later this month and let’s see what happens.’”
The flexibility of a pop-up is just one of many perks of being forced to start slow and small. There’s also no added overhead costs. “I can just take my time and and figure it out, Rivera says. “And if people show up great, right, If not, more for me to eat.”
While the November 29 pop-up is sold out, customers can follow @bombapdx on Instagram for information on future pop-up sales.
• Bomba PDX [Instagram]