The real story behind Carlo's Bakery

The idea of illusive cakes is not new. In fact, it's currently trending, and it has everyone wondering what everyday objects in their lives are actually cake. But the practice of creating a wildly deceptive art cake was popularized largely thanks to the likes of Cake Boss. The Learning Channel show rocketed Buddy Valastro to celebrity baker status, resulted in tons of spinoffs, and made fondant more of a household name.

With all that, it's easy to forget that Valastro's creations are coming from an actual bakery — a petite bake shop dating back to 1910 when it was opened by Carlo Guastaferro on a quiet residential street in New Jersey. In fact, decades of baking, business-building, changing of the ownership guard, and even tragedy occurred in this East Coast bakery before Cake Boss ever premiered back in 2009.

The site is a tourist attraction now, still across from Hoboken City Hall, with lines winding down the streets and $125 cake-decorating classes. There are multiple locations across the country and even locations in Brazil, as well as vending machines in Canada. But it all started as Carlo's Bakery on Adams Street.

Carlo's Bakery actually dates back to 1910

So many associate Carlo's Bakery with Buddy Valastro and the TLC show Cake Boss, but the name and business date back to Carlo Guastaferro — a pastry chef and Italian immigrant. Yes, that would be the Carlo. Chef Guastaferro opened the bakery "on a quiet street" in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1910. Guastaferro ran the bakery for decades before hiring Bartolo Valastro, a teenager from Sicily who already had some baking experience from becoming a baker's apprentice at just seven years old.

Valastro, who later became known as Buddy Sr., bought Carlo's Bakery from Guastaffero in 1963. After more than 25 years of operation, Valastro moved the bakery from the quiet Adams Street spot in residential Hoboken to the more centrally located suite along Washington Street.

Standing across from Hoboken City Hall, the bakery (sometimes also referred to as Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop) picked up some momentum, attracting customers with its inviting maroon-and-white awning. And that all part of the plan. According to Carlo's Bakery's own website, it was "part of Buddy Sr.'s dream to make Carlo's a household name." Looks like he'd be happy with where it's ended up.

Buddy Valastro Sr. was the original Cake Boss of Carlo's Bakery

Residing in Little Ferry, New Jersey, Bartolo Valastro Sr. was a family man — a husband and father to four daughters and a son, the youngest. Buddy Valastro Jr. and sisters grew up around cakes and pastries, leading to Buddy Jr. following his father to Carlo's Bakery as early as 11 years old. At first, our apprentice was washing dishes and cleaning up. On his first day at the bakery, Buddy Jr. says his father made him clean the toilet bowl — just to show he wouldn't be getting any special treatment. 

Soon, he graduated from the bathroom to the kitchen, cracking eggs and moving flour and sugar. Then he started filling cannoli (though, not very well in the early days). But despite those early fumbles, it was soon discovered he'd be a fourth-generation baker. Buddy Jr.'s first cake was an Italian rum cake — a birthday treat for his mother — at age 12. 

But he seemed a natural. "We had less regulations back then, so you could stick your arm in the mixing bowl while it was mixing," Buddy Valastro told Thrillist. "It was dangerous code, but you knew the rhythm of the way that machine worked. It's like a musician knowing how to play an instrument."

Buddy Valastro Jr. took over Carlo's Bakery as a teenager

In 1994 when Buddy Valastro Jr. was 17 and still in high school, Buddy Valastro Sr. died. Shook, and donning his father's St. Anthony medallion (something he continues to wear), Valastro took over at Carlo's Bakery. Valastro says in the early days, it was tough getting his four older sisters to take any direction from their kid brother, resulting in some difficulties. Same went for the Carlo's Bakery employees at the time.

Other roadblocks presented themselves. One of the bakery's signature items was the lobster tail, "an Americanized version of the Italian sfogiatelle pastry," according to Eater. Carlo's had been selling them since 1910 under the original owner, Carlo Guastaferro. The pastry uses sfogliatelle dough, something Valastro struggled to replicate after his father's death. But soon, according to the Carlo's Bakery website, Valastro's father apparently came to him in a dream and revealed the mysteries of the lobster tail. Valastro nailed the dough the next day.

During these first years, Valastro also had to become a pro at fondant and decorating — something that would soon become key to the Carlo's Bakery name and style.

Cake Boss started in 2009 and gained Carlo's Bakery widespread recognition

It's well-known to Carlo's Bakery fans that Buddy Valastro was not inherently artistic and struggled in art classes at school. But after establishing himself as the new owner and operator of the historic Hoboken bake shop, Valastro started getting imaginative.

"I wanted to be creative," it reads on the Carlo's website, "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." Valastro started with his father's recipes, creating early bakery orders like the red velvet cake, flower cupcakes, and artistic wedding cakes. Soon, designer cakes became Valastro's signature, leading to heavy regional recognition for himself and the bakery.

In 2004, Valastro was asked to be a contestant on Food Network Challenge — a competitive cooking series at the dawn of reality baking shows. Valastro competed in four of the show's cake competitions, losing the first three, but winning the fourth, which earned him $10,000 and some mild fame.

But it would be TLC, not Food Network, that would offer Valastro a television series and status as a celebrity baker. TLC filmed for 120 hours for the pilot alone, but the channel was apparently hooked. An additional 12 episodes were ordered, and Cake Boss premiered in 2009. The show has now seen ten seasons.

It took more than 100 years to open more locations of Carlo's Bakery

Obviously, exposure from Cake Boss resulted in increased business, as in lines out the door at Carlo's Bakery. In fact, in 2010, the corner of Washington and Newark Streets was renamed Carlo's Bakery Way. There's now a line that persists outside of what is now known as the original Carlo's Bakery (now a Hoboken tourist attraction).

In 2011, the Cake Boss Cafe opened at the Discovery Times Square exhibit space — more than 100 years after Carlo's Bakery opened in 1910. Buddy Valastro started delivering the bakery's goods like cannoli and lobster tails — but not the elaborate cakes from the show — to the new branch location on a daily basis.

Now, Carlo's Bakery has a baker's dozen locations across the country. We're talking more bakeries in the northeast, as well as Florida, Texas, and Minnesota, and as far west as Santa Monica.

And while a few more inventive Carlo's Bakery operations exist in Canada, the only official locations outside of the U.S. are in Brazil.

Carlo's Bakery started mass-producing cakes in 2012

Remember when we mentioned how Buddy Valastro was delivering pastries and other baked goods to the first location outside of Hoboken? That seems like extra work, but it's probably important for bakery owners to ensure customers are eating fresh-baked goods. So, while our humble Cake Boss was making daily trips to neighboring New York City for the sake of a fresh bake, the same couldn't be said for the designer cakes. Cakes were not sold at the Cake Boss Cafe at Discovery Times Square when it opened in 2011.

Despite this standard, Valastro did roll out a line of grocery store cakes in summer 2012. The mass-produced buttercream cake line, released in partnership with Dawn Foods, first had two choices: the Badda Bloom and My Party Cake.

Valastro pulled it off by turning to the family-run company that supplied Carlo's Bakery with its flour, sugar, and other ingredients. He gave them his cake recipes so they could replicate them in large supply. "We came up with the designs, using my exact ingredients and baking instructions, down to how many revolutions for mixing the batter," Valastro told the Associated Press. "I'm proud of this."

Over the years, new pastries and cakes followed, including Let's Party, Eye Poppin' Petals, and Beach Party. However, all this seems to have gone by the wayside. Carlo's Bakery now just offers nationwide shipping through Goldbelly. It even released a new cake and decorating tool combo.

Carlo's Bakery offers classes

Sometimes, watching Cake Boss, getting Carlo's Bakery deliveries, or picking up some lobster tails at your nearest Carlo's Bakery location just isn't enough. Luckily, if you happen to live near the original Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, you can learn to make a Cake Boss-style cake for yourself and your. Yes, Carlo's Bakery offers cake decorating classes, kind of like those wine and painting nights that have been going on at bistros and wine bars all over the country.

Want to know how to make a Magical Unicorn Cake? How about a Whimsical Mermaid Cake? Classes, usually held at 9 a.m. on weekend mornings, last two hours and cover buttercream techniques and fondant decorating, and according to the website, each participant receives a six-inch chocolate and vanilla cake layered with chocolate fudge to decorate and take home (based on whatever theme you chose). The cost is $125. Participants must be at least eight years old. Coffee, merchandise, and baked goods are available for sale during class time and yes, you do have to sign a waiver.

If this isn't your thing but you know someone who might love taking one of these classes, Carlo's Bakery also offers decorating class gift certificates.

Some Carlo's Bakery cakes definitely went off the rails

One has to wonder if Carlo Guastaferro ever pictured a giant NASA shuttle cake coming from his little New Jersey bake shop. In the beginning, Buddy Valastro struggled with lobster tails. In more recent times, he and a small team struggled to get a 7,000-pound Transformer Cake featuring Bumblebee into the showroom.

Throughout the history of Cake Boss and the recent history of Carlo's Bakery, the cakes have definitely gone overboard. We do think a few are pretty great — especially the entire city block cake made for the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. And then there's that World's Largest Quilt Cake

But a few more are just the worst. There's the $30 million , plus just insane creations like the ugly feet cake and a literal toilet cake. Also, the cake made to look like Buddy's wife Lisa is kind of scary. But the biggest blunder may be the Wrigley Field cake.

The giant stadium-shaped dessert clocked in at 25 square feet and 400 pounds. It was made with chocolate, vanilla, chocolate fudge, and chewable baseball players. However, those were just about the only parts that were edible. The Cubs cake ended up in the dumpster, and photos absolutely surfaced. Bad publicity started brewing, and The Cubs had to issue a statement: "The team made a decision not to serve the edible portion after the cake was on display outside Wrigley Field for most of the day."

Despite growth, Carlo's Bakery locations have had to shut down

Yes, it took more than a century for Carlo's Bakery to open a branch location, quickly followed by an actual location. And yes, now there are 13 locations across the United States and more in Brazil. But there used to be more Carlo's Bakeries out there.

For instance, Carlo's Bakery locations are dropping like flies in New Jersey. A site in Westfield, New Jersey closed in April 2018. Then, a location in Red Bank closed that same summer after five years of operation. By January 2019, the Ridgewood and Morristown locations were shuttered, citing that leases were up, and they were not to be renewed. Looks like the one at Wayne's Willowbrook Mall dropped off as well. Now, only two shops remain in the Garden State — one in Marlton and, of course, the original spot in Hoboken.

Down the coast, both Carlo's Bake Shop locations in Atlanta closed in May 2019. The closures even spread to Long Island, as the Garden City, New York, location closed in August 2019. And in 2020, the Carlo's Bakery kiosk inside the Stonebriar Center in Frisco, Texas, also closed — where one woman even camped out in 2017 for 18 hours before it opened.

Carlo's Bakery is available in Canada ... sort of

Now, when you check out the remaining locations of Carlo's Bakery, you see three weird entries. Toronto is home to three Carlo's Bakery ATMs. And these are exactly what they sound like.

In November 2019, Carlo's Bakery planted three cake vending machines in Ontario — one at the Royal Bank Plaza, one at Richmond Adelaide Centre, and another at Waterpark Place. Since each machine is stamped with "Fresh from Carlo's Bakery," the vending machines are reportedly re-stocked daily. The ATM vends up to 160 slices, which cost $8.99 each. However, much like the Hoboken location of Carlo's Bakery, and the many other locations on opening day, the bakery drew lengthy lines of cake fans.

While these little slice-peddling machines seem a little informal, it was the first time Canadians could buy Carlo's cake on their own soil. That is, until delivery to Canada started in the summer of 2020. Carlo's Bakery delivery service in Canada launched on June 22. It was announced via an Instagram video from Buddy Valastro himself. "I know that my Canadian fans have been asking me for a long time, 'How do I taste your cakes?'" Cake Boss said. "Well, let me tell you guys, now is the time!"

Cakes are $99 and frozen with dry ice to keep fresh while shipping. Canadian cake fans may choose from five styles — the Oh Canada Baby, rainbow cake, chocolate fudge, carrot cake, and the sampler (a combination of all four).

New Jersey seems to love Carlo's Bakery right back

As fans of reality television already know, cooking shows make an impact. For years, Hoboken, New Jersey, was known for baseball firsts, the Stevens Institute of Technology, the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, and probably the Hoboken Terminal. But now, it's also the home of Carlo's Bakery.

Carlo's already had a dedicated following before Cake Boss (and its many spin-offs). The bakery attracted many from the New York-area and beyond to Washington Street. According to the bakery's website, Carlo's "averaged around 60 wedding cakes, 500 birthday cakes, thousands of cannolis." And the city of Hoboken took notice.

The corner of Washington and Newark streets was renamed Carlo's Bakery Way in 2010, only a year after Cake Boss premiered. Former Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer was even a judge on Next Great Baker in 2011. "I wanted to do it," she says. "I think it's a great way to promote Hoboken." The London-based firm Ernst & Young also awarded Valastro with a Humanitarian of the Year award.

When Valastro's mother, Mary Valastro, died in 2017, the front façade to Carlo's was heavily adorned with flowers, wreaths, cards, and art — a tribute to a woman who had worked at the bake shop for decades. Today, the original Carlo's Bakery is a tourist attraction in New Jersey, with tips on how to visit the little bake shop listed on sites like TripAdvisor, Expedia, and of course, travel blogs for the city of Hoboken.