If you’ve ever wandered by downtown Hoboken wondering what the craziness is that is happening outside the Verizon store, any seasoned Hoboken resident will tell you that it’s not just any crowd of people. These are Carlo’s Bake Shop visitors from all over the country, on a pilgrimage to see the famed Cake Boss local on the nationally syndicated TV network, TLC. Before Carlo’s Bake Shop was full of fondant cakes and cannolis, it had a rich Hoboken history that we’re sharing today. So sit back, relax, enjoy your coffee, and buckle up your time machine for the history of the iconic Carlo’s Bakery.
Photo courtesy of Carlo’s Bakery
It all started in 1910 when the bakery was first opened by Carlo Guastaferro, an Italian immigrant (you may remember from our St. Ann’s TBT the crew that came over around that time) — who is also the bakery’s namesake. In the 1950s, Guastaferro hired Bartolo Valastro, a teenager from Italy who came to America from an island off the northern coast of Sicily without a single cent.
According to the Hudson Reporter, Valastro had begun training as an apprentice to an Italian bread baker at 7 years old, so he knew a lot already. Once he got some years of apprenticing with Guastaferro under his belt, he bought the bakery from Guastaferro as he was getting ready to retire in 1964.
So where does Buddy, the star of the TLC show, come into play, you might ask? More familiar names will start popping up, don’t you worry.
After Bartolo passed away, his wife Mary and their five children took over the business (Hint hint: Buddy was one of the five).
Buddy had begun working at the bakery with his father when he was 11 and the two had a very close relationship. He and his dad worked side by side, and Buddy was able to soak up all of his father’s knowledge on baking, along with a strong mentality for a successful business.
(Photo credit: Carlo’s Bakery)
Although Buddy helped his father in the bakery, he always struggled to think of himself as one of the nation’s top bakers, since he wasn’t a natural artist. But, once his father passed, he knew he had to step up to the plate and take over the family business.
The one problem with this scenario of Buddy as head honcho? When Bartolo passed away, the bakery’s secret baking technique for creating some of its signature items vanished. The bakery, under Buddy’s direction, had a difficult time in particular creating the sfogliatelle dough (that flaky goodness!) used to make lobster tails [who can forget the delish Italian dessert]. But, as the story goes, Buddy had a vision of his father one night after his passing, in which his father came to him in a dream and said, “I am here for one reason, to show you how to make lobster tails.”
The next day, Buddy woke up a new man and realized that he was able to create the one-of-a-kind sfogliatelle dough. This is when the magic happened, and Buddy knew his father was watching over him and would be there for him whenever he needed help (side note: I wish my Grandma would share her secret recipes with me in my dreams — wouldn’t that be nice!).
Bartolo Sr. always wanted to be well-known, so to follow in his footsteps and make his pops proud, Buddy attempted different ways to make the business stand out. “I wanted to be creative, and thought if I can make cakes that don’t look like normal cakes, but taste the way my dad’s cakes tasted… then I might be onto something,” he shared with Huffington Post.
So instead of going the traditional route of just relying on taste, the cake mogul decided to create designer cakes, which he believed would take little ol’ Carlo’s to be something bigger and better. With some kitchen tools and sugar and spice (dare we say everything nice?!), Buddy played scientist with his father’s recipes, making things like red velvet cake and signature flower cupcakes. During that time, he mastered fondant cakes, which allowed him to create beautiful, sweet creations that nobody in the business had ever made before.
(Photo credit: Carlo’s Bakery)
After becoming a locally-known cake designer and winning accolades and features in many publications, Buddy was invited to take part in the Food Network Challenge in 2004. A pretty outgoing and outspoken guy, he participated in four other Food Network challenges making cakes. Unfortunately, he lost three of the battles but took first prize in the “battle of the brides” competition, winning $10,000.
But the Food Network competitions were only the beginning of his television career; several of the cameramen approached him after one of the tapings and encouraged him to get his own show. You can tell where this is going…
Soon after that interaction in 2009, Buddy got in touch with executives at TLC who had seen him on TV before and agreed to shoot the first episode in our little Mile Square. The channel loved the episode, and decided to order 12 more episodes. As a result, The Cake Boss was born. Since that time, the bakery on Washington Street has opened its Lackawanna factory location.
Fast forward to the present day and Carlo’s has locations is eight states plus New Jersey. The bakery ships nationwide and Buddy has his own line of cake decorating supplies. A brick and mortar-turned-national-franchise, pretty noble — and it all started in our little city of Hoboken.
A small Hoboken fun fact before we leave you: because Carlo’s wants to honor its Hoboken roots, anyone with a Hoboken ID who comes into the bakery on Washington gets to skip the line. How’s that for a VIP hookup?