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Talking with 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro

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The "Cake Boss," Buddy Valastro, with Kidsday reporters Dylan Cuttler, left, Sam Saldarelli, Emmy Rosenberg and Asra Iqbal, all from Merrick, at the Discovery Offices in Manhattan. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We had an amazing opportunity to meet and interview Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro. He is a reality TV show host and owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken and other locations. He also has multiple shows such as “Cake Boss,” “Bake You Rich.” “Bake It Like Buddy” and “Bakers vs. Fakers.”

How did you get the nickname Buddy?

My dad had the nickname Buddy before me. When my dad came over from Italy, his name is Bobbytolo. That’s how it’s pronounced in Italian. But everybody would say Bartolo or they couldn’t pronounce it. So his friend said we’re going to give you an American nickname. We’re going to call you Buddy. And then everybody called him Buddy. And then I’m Bartolo on my birth certificate and my son is Bartolo. Everybody calls us Buddy. I feel like I couldn’t have gotten a better name because I feel like I’m friends with everybody, and I get along with everybody so it was pretty cool to have the name Buddy growing up.

If baking wasn’t an inherited family hobby what would your career come to be and why?

I truly have my dream job. I feel like I am successful because I get up and go to work and I still enjoy it. I love creating what I create. I get a sense of satisfaction and self-worth. Especially for you guys, being young in a sense where you don’t know what you’re going to do in five years or 10 years. But whatever it’s going to be, you have to wake up in the morning and want to go there. You have to wake up and be like hey I’m going to do this. Or you know, I solved this problem. I feel like I’m a problem solver whether it’s how to figure out how to make a cake spit fire or whether it’s trying to figure out a schedule or mapping or sequence of events or looking at systems and making them better. I solve problems. But nothing makes me feel as fulfilled as baking.

And a piece of advice, you guys need to find that thing that drives you, that when you finish something and you can say: well I solved that problem and look at what I did. You know, you remember why you became a baker or why you became the boss of something. You know, but realistically I probably could have been a lawyer. The only thing is I didn’t like to read as much so, which you guy should do.

What were some challenges in becoming entrepreneur?

I had a lot of challenges in that aspect because I didn’t go to Harvard Business School. I didn’t even graduate high school because my dad died, and I had to drop out. I didn’t have a lot of schooling. My schooling and becoming an entrepreneur was really running a small bakery. And when I took over, we had probably 25 employees. And then before “Cake Boss,” we had probably about 70, 75 employees and then now I probably have a couple thousand employees with everything that I do. But I think that there’s attributes about people who, it’s in your DNA what you do, right. So instinctively, I’m a leader. I’m a problem solver. When I see a problem I want to solve it. Whether my wife is trying to figure out how to get what kid to what game and what car, and who’s going to drive it, that’s the way my mind works. I look at problems and I want to solve them.

Is it tough to have your entire family working for you?

You want a sister, I’ll give you one. I’m not going to say which one because then I’m going to get in trouble. You know I’ve got to say the truth. There’s good and bad when working with your family. Right. Let’s start with the good. Nobody is going to work harder than your family. Nobody is going to care more than your family. When the chips are down, your family will be there like nobody else. The problem is they take the business personal. And that's because it is personal to them. They’ve grown up in it. It was their dad’s, their mom’s. But business — sometimes you can’t look at personally. You have to look at it as business. And we sometimes argue, or we sometimes disagree, but the good so outweighs the bad. And realistically, if we do fight we always make up. We have like a rule that all right, we’re going to yell, we’re going to scream, we’re going to fight, but then we’re going to make up. And we always do. And we’re a tight niche family.

I think, honestly, that's the secret to success of “Cake Boss,” I mean nine seasons, 300 episodes in, the show airs in 245 countries all over the world. It’s dubbed in 45 languages. So the fact that it resonates everywhere is because of the family dynamic. It’s because no matter what, we’re still a family. And it’s important to have that family dynamic. I couldn’t be who I am without my family. I say this a lot to people, because I’m asked, what’s your biggest accomplishment? I have 20 bakeries. I have thousands of employees. I have restaurants. I have a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award. All right. But my biggest accomplishment is my family. That’s my legacy. That’s who and what I’m most proud of.

What are some common challenges you face when making life-size very detailed cakes, and how do you overcome or get around these challenges?

Remember, God’s cover-up is a polka dot. You could put a polka dot on anything that’s broke. You know what I’m saying, or sprinkles. If you see a cake, throw some sprinkles. When you’re doing things to scale, human life-size cake is probably the hardest because you’ve got to measure someone. Like I need to know how long are your fingers. Or like how long is your arm from your shoulder. All these little things and little details really take it to another level when that person stands next to the cake. Like, oh my God, it looks like me. Like it’s really me. The expression on their face. The way their eyes are. You know, or their facial expressions, that’s really the most challenging thing. I have a great team of different people. When Ralph builds like a human face, he does it in almost like, you know DaVinci drawings of a face. And the way he layers it and puts it on and carves into it. It’s pretty crazy. It’s almost like he builds it and then he puts a skin on over the top of it, which is pretty crazy, but that’s usually how it works.

How does it feel to be like successful in your hometown in New Jersey?

It feels really good. I mean, unfortunately I come from a town where I’m second fiddle to Frank Sinatra. You know what I mean? It had to be Sinatra who came from where I came from. It couldn’t have been someone. Listen, just I’m so proud of being from New Jersey. And again, when I say New Jersey, again we’re all New Yorkers. You guys are from Long Island. It’s all the same. We’re the tristate area. You know this is who really we are. And we’re so lucky because we have so much so close to us. And being able to kind of go back to my hometown of you know, Hoboken or Little Ferry, and know that, and I say Little Ferry because that’s where I went to school and that’s where my house was.

Do any of your kids show interest or plan on running the bakery one day?

They all show some interest. Some better than others at certain tasks. I think that my daughter Sophia is definitely the most artistic. And she’s definitely very bossy. I can see her being the boss one day. But my son Buddy has got the drive. He doesn’t give up ever. He’ll take it apart, redo it. Do it over and everything else. Then you’ve got my son Marco, he’s the politician. He can talk. He can sweet talk and he’s just got the gift of gab. And then Carlo’s still a baby yet — he’s 8. But you know I want them to find that thing in life that they love. Do I hope that they want to get into what I do? Absolutely. But if they don’t, am I going to be disappointed? No, because I want them to be happy in life. This is what makes me happy. They need to find what makes them happy. 

Roland Clark’s seventh-grade English class, Merrick Avenue Middle School 

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