An Evening With The Cake Boss
Yesterday morning on my weekly Global TV segment, I shared the latest research out of Cornell University. The studies are in on money and happiness: People Who Spend Money On Experiences Instead Of Things Are Much Happier.
When it’s payday and that paycheck gets deposited into you account, do you run out to buy a great pair of shoes, or a nice handbag? Or do you save up for an experience? If given $400 – would you spend it on an iPhone or a plane ticket to somewhere you’ve never been before to experience a new city? Does your money go toward THINGS or EXPERIENCES? Because the latest research is telling us, we’ll be much happier if we collect LIFE EXPERIENCES over THINGS.
It is said experiences sustain your happiness for much longer than purchases on your wish list – experiences such as art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling. (Cornell University).
Take a look:
Well, almost 800 women in my Montreal community decided to spend their hard earned money and their $36.00 on a life experience last night. I was the proud co-chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Spring Event for Federation CJA. Our guest for the evening– Buddy Valastro, AKA THE Cake Boss! Making 800 women happy is so small feat, but just having Buddy in our presence was enough.
For those who don’t know The Cake Boss, let me give you his back story, in his words.
They call me the boss. Cake Boss, that is.
Maybe you’ve seen my show of the same name on TLC—it’s a slice of life straight from my family’s historic bakery, Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey.
But it was really an unforgettable dream I had weeks after my father, the true Cake Boss, died, a time in my life of great doubt and grief and confusion.
Carlo’s Bake Shop is a family affair if ever there was one, and a second home for my wife, Lisa, and me and our four children. I work with my four older sisters (Mama retired after 40 years), two brothers-in-law, cousins and plenty of nonrelatives too.
I consider them all my family—or mia famiglia, as I like to say.
Sure, we get on each other’s nerves sometimes (what family doesn’t?), but we also have a lot of fun.
Together we’ve made everything from a six-foot-high replica of the Empire State Building to a life-sized racecar for NASCAR built from 24,000 cakes (that one took a few years off my life!) and we bake thousands of Italian pastries, cupcakes and wedding cakes each week.
I thank God that we’re so busy and that I get to do what I love. But even though I’m a fourth-generation baker I didn’t always think I had the gift.
There’s a saying about the men in our family, that our hands are blessed by God to do this work. My grandfather and great-grandfather were bread bakers back in Italy.
My father, Buddy, Sr. (Bartolo was his given name, but everyone called him “Buddy”), came to America and he worked in bakeries too, only his specialty was pastries. When he was 25 he bought Carlo’s after the owner retired. A year later he married my mom, Mary.
Together they ran the bakery and went on to have four daughters. Just when they thought they were done, guess who came along? Me.
It wasn’t until I was six I got my first taste of what my father did for a living. One day I stared up at him putting on his crisp white baker’s uniform and announced, “Daddy, I want to come to work with you.” That day he brought me to Carlo’s.
I loved the sweet intoxicating aroma, the whirr of the machines, machines like I’d never seen before! Dad folded up an apron to fit around my waist and propped me up on a bucket so I could watch.
In his hands pastry dough came alive. It hopped up on the rolling pin, unspooled, then lay flat like it was sleeping. It was like magic. I was in awe.
Dad didn’t want me following in his footsteps. “You are not going to do this for a living,” he’d say in his husky Italian accent. “You are going to college.”
Still, he wanted me to learn responsibility. So he put me to work—and not in the back of the bakery where the action was. No, my job was to scrub floors and clean the bathroom, hard labor for a 12-year-old.
Eventually he let me help with food prep—cracking eggs, even decorating cookies. One day he had me put the cherries on top of our popular sugar cookies.
“Why are you doing it with one hand?” Dad asked. “God gave you two hands, do two at once!” Every task was a chance to teach me how to do things right and then do them better.
No matter how successful the bakery was, though, Dad always wanted to take it to the next level. We’d pass a newsstand and he’d blurt out, “Buddy, just imagine what it would do for our business if we got into one of those bridal magazines!” Dad was as much a dreamer as he was a worker.
Dad taught me how to make a few things, just for fun—tea biscuits, éclairs, napoleons. “Watch my hands, Buddy,” he’d say. I picked things up pretty quickly. When I was just 16, Dad actually entrusted me to decorate wedding cakes.
I couldn’t put my design on paper, but I’d take one look at the cake in front of me and go into a zone—a place where my hands took over. It would just come. I’d step back and the cake would look great.
“Your son is unbelievable,” people told Dad. “He’s just like you!” Dad was proud but he insisted, “Buddy will do better than me. He’ll go to college.” (Guideposts.org)
But Buddy didn’t go to college. On his seventeeth birthday, his father died of lung cancer just 3 weeks after being diagnosed. Mama whispered, “What are we going to do?” Buddy knew the answer. He told his father before he passed away, “I’m going to make Carlo’s a household name, like you always dreamed, I promise. I’m going to make you proud, Dad.”
And he did make him proud. You have to imagine he did.
And he was in those bridal magazines as his dad had hoped– yup, EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of Bridal Magazine for two straight years after finally making the first issue. Buddy’s story is both exceptional and inspirational.
What makes this man lovable though is his huge heart, which is unmistakable. His old school values and serious work ethic also make him even more lovable. His success is based on grit, raw talent, hard work, big cajones (no pun interned), and sheer will. And his commitment to giving back wherever he goes is remarkable.
Just being in Buddy’s presence was motivating, and made me want to give back and do more.
A few lessons I learned from last night
- Offer a great product at a great price, and that’s the real secret to success. Price yourself out of the market and you can stroke with your great product. Again, no pun intended. 😉
- Be real. Make mistakes. They both make you likable. Polished and perfect is so yesterday. Grit, real life stories are what really sell.
- The art of the schmooze takes work, but can be the ink on the contract. He told us about how he “took care” of those magazine ladies, TV people. He showed up with cakes, cupcakes, he did what it took to get noticed, and it worked. “Take care of people, and they will take care of you,” he told a sold out crowd of almost 800 women. Great biz advice.
Here’s a little video Buddy made at the end of the night:
And finally, some pics of the night
“Every day when I walk through those bakery doors, I’m reminded of Dad, the real Cake Boss. I like to think he’d be proud of me, of our family, and proud that with hard work and a lot of faith, I’ve made good on my promise to him.” –Buddy Valastro