Celebrity Baker Buddy Valastro Shares Recipe for Success with Whitman Students

Buddy Valastro talking to a student in Flaum Grand Hall

Celebrity Baker. Television Personality. Restaurateur. Author. Entrepreneur. Buddy Valastro (“The Cake Boss”) has taken his family business, Carlos’ Bake Shop, to heights that few would dream of achieving. But, Valastro did!


On March 19, Valastro visited the Whitman School to interact with students, including lunch with Whitman Leadership Scholars, and one-on-one conversations with students pursuing food-related startups.


One highlight of the day was a cupcake decorating contest coordinated by Dawn McWilliams, Whitman’s director of marketing and communications, and Cheryl Fabrizi, the University’s associate vice president of auxiliary services. Students and faculty tried their hand with frosting and sprinkles, and, later, Valastro and his wife, Lisa, and son, Marco, judged the entries and chose winners.


Valastro then joined Interim Dean Alex McKelvie for a conversation as part of the IMPRESS Speaker Series, which showcases business leaders’ perspectives on success. Students packed the Lender Auditorium to hear Valastro’s story, as well as his advice for emerging entrepreneurs.


“I was born an entrepreneur. I’m like a shark who smells blood in the water when I see opportunity,” he says. “After my dad died when I was 17, I made a vow to my family, my employees and myself that I was going to keep the business going or die trying. I don’t care how hard I have to work to solve something. I turn that switch on and keep processing until I figure it out. That’s the way I tick.”


Valastro says his success comes not only from hard work but from an ability to see the business from different angles – as well as a bit of luck. He’s always had an instinct to see where the money was, and he realized it was in specialty cakes, particularly wedding cakes. His intricately piped wedding cakes soon caught the attention of “Modern Bride” magazine, which featured Valastro and his cakes three time, giving his talents and business great exposure.


With growing popularity, Valastro was asked to participate in a baking competition on the Food Network. He lost but says he “ultimately won,” as people responded to his charisma on the show. In 2008, cable network TLC reached out to him about a baking show, and Valastro pitched “Cake Boss.” It happened quickly, and soon the reality show about his showstopper cakes and the interaction of his family at Carlo’s Bake Shop became the No. 1 cable show in 225 countries seen by almost a billion people over nine seasons.


Valastro admits he knew little of failure until 2014 when he realized his business model wasn’t scalable and that he had made some real estate mistakes while expanding Carlo’s. Valastro closed some of his bakeries and instead began focusing on tourist destinations like Las Vegas and Times Square. (The original Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, remains open.) “it’s important to learn from your failures and be a scrappy survivor,” he says.


COVID posed another obstacle, but Valastro increased his e-commerce business, relying on his extended family to work the production line. During Christmas that year, Carlo’s Bake Shop shipped out nearly 40,000 packages “because Buddy Valastro delivers, no matter what,” he says.


His latest ventures include joining with Walmart to distribute Every Buddy’s cakes, as well as individually packaged cake slices. Valastro admits he was skeptical at first but praises Walmart for being supportive and ensuring the quality of the cake met his high standards. This June will mark one year since he joined with Walmart, where he now has 25 SKUs. In addition, he has put cake vending machines at hotels, rest stops, casinos, airports and other locations in New Jersey, Delaware, Florida and Nevada. And, “Buddy Valastro’s Cake Dynasty” premiered in 2023 on A&E, focusing on the thriving family business.


Valastro admits he’s high paced and thrives on chaos. He also acknowledges that success has impacted time with his family, but he does his best to keep a balance.


“My next goal is to be able to continue to grow this for my kids, which is why my son (Buddy III) is here at Whitman studying business,” he explains. “Believe in yourself, wake up early, make sacrifices and get back up after being beaten down. You are the next generation of success, so don’t be afraid to just do it!”




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