By Paul Giorgio
Buddy’s story is a familiar one; it’s the tale of his parents coming to America, of finding a job, of eventually buying the business. In this case, the business was Carlo’s Bakery, an icon of the Italian American community in Hoboken, New Jersey, just over the bridge from New York City and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra.
Today, Buddy owns Carlo’s, employs about 100 people ~ most of them his extended family of sisters, brothers-in-law, cousins, nephews and just good folks from the neighborhood.
Buddy recounts his story in Cake Boss, which is basically the story of America ~ only a little sweeter.
While we were growing up, my friend Gerry D’Amico’s family owned Boston Bread and D’Amico’s Bakery on Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street. We hung around the bakery eating fresh Italian cookies and pastries until all that baked-with-love goodness started packing on the pounds.
I remember thinking that a baker’s job was not easy; Gerry’s father Gerry, Sr. and his uncles Joe and Eddie would get up in the middle of the night to start baking the day’s bread and pastries. In my eyes, they were ethereal angels with hands full of cannoli, Neapolitans and other Italian treats. To this day, I remember them clearly, dressed in their whites and covered in flour.
So in a sense, Buddy Vallastro’s story is that of hundreds of Italian kids growing up in a hundred American cities.
We interviewed Buddy recently as he was kicking off his book signing tour across America, catching him before his November 5 appearance at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
Buddy, since you’re the Cake Boss, do you have an underboss?
No, I’m the only boss.
How many relatives do you have working for you?
Ten to twenty. I got my sisters, my mother and a bunch of cousins.
Have you ever had to fire one?
Fortunately, not yet.
How did the TV show come about?
I did a lot of Food Network challenges and the TLC Network wanted a show, so we put something together.
What is the difference between you and your show and Duff and his show, “Ace of Cakes?” Do people recognize you?
I get recognized wherever I go ~ went to a sports bar ~ lots of people recognized me but I’m a Yankees fan.
I think people relate to the show. We are still that old fashioned Italian bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. We’re more down to earth and real. I get recognized wherever I go ~ went to a sports bar ~ lots of people recognized me but I’m a Yankees fan.
What does one of your cakes cost?
It depends. If you want a regular sheet cake, it’s a hundred bucks, but they can go up to$20,000 if it walks and talks.
Who comes up with most of the ideas for the cakes? Is it the customer or is it you?
Usually it’s me; they tell me the theme and I come up with the idea and the cake.
How long does it take to make one of your cakes?
It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 weeks. If you want a simple half sheet cake, we can decorate it in 5 minutes. If it is like the NASCAR cake, it can take two weeks.
I saw the show when you brought your family back to Italy. Was that emotional for you? What region are you from?
We’re from Bari, near the boot. Both of my grandparents were born in U.S. and then moved back to Italy. They made money here and moved back. My parents were both born in Italy. My father is from Sicily, he came to the states in 1952 and my mother came over in 1954. He bought the bakery from Carlo in 1963 and we kept the name. When we went back, it was very emotional ~ seeing where my folks were from and going over with my kids and my cousins and sisters. It showed me what hard work can do.
What was your most challenging cake to make?
The NASCAR cake-it took years off of my life. It was 20,000 pounds. It was a full size car.
What is your bakery like now?
It’s crazy. It’s only 7,000 square feet and we have 100 employees ~ we work 24/7. I’m still there 5 days a week.
What is it like when you film? Do the cameras get in the way?
It’s all hand held cameras and it takes 5 days to film a show. Most of the stuff doesn’t make it onto the show.
Are you still a neighborhood place?
We are and that will never change, but currently we’re building a 400,000 square foot place in Jersey City to make all the pastries we make ~ everything from cookies to cannoli to lobster tails. And we still only charge $3 for a cannoli.
Tell me about your tour. What do you do at the appearance? Do you bake a cake?
It’s an interactive show and I have the audience help decorate a cake. I tell them my life story. It’s very “feel good.” I get to meet with fans. You hear stories about what “Cake Boss” means to them. We have a lot of Italian American fans but we are also broadcast in 93 countries
To learn more about Buddy, his bakery, and “Cake Boss,” visit the following websites: