“Running a successful cake department depends on two things: 1) me interacting with employees in the department, and 2) me interacting with the customer,” says Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J.
|Carlo’s decorating department spends up to four days making gumpaste flowers for the 25 to 40 wedding cakes it makes per week.|
Communication is key with eight full-time employees and two to four interns cranking out 25 to 40 wedding and specialty cakes during the bakery’s busy wedding season, which lasts from the beginning of April to the end of November. Wedding cakes make up 30 percent of the full-line bakery’s sales, with birthday cakes accounting for 40 percent (assorted pastries make up the remaining 30 percent). With 70 percent of sales coming from decorated cakes, Valastro has to run a tight ship.
At the beginning of the week, he and two decorators go through the order slips. He reads the information, one employee tracks the cake sizes and fillings for the production staff and the other notes the gumpaste flowers that will be needed.
Most of Monday through Wednesday is devoted to the production of gumpaste flowers. The amount needed for the week’s cakes determines the number of employees assigned to the task. During a slow week, Valastro may still have his staff make extra flowers for the upcoming weeks. In the busy summer season, four employees work for four days on the flowers. “I always have an arsenal of flowers,” Valastro says. “I always make an extra four or five of each flower because something always seems to happen.”
Working as a team, the staff forms an assembly line for the actual decorating process. Three to four people fill the cakes, two more base ice the cakes with buttercream, two others cover the cakes with fondant and stack them, and then Valastro handles most of the finishing.
“The main reason why the system works is because I’m here and I’m working,” Valastro says. “They’re feeding me, but I meet with the bride and groom, and I know what the couple is looking for. That’s why it’s important for me to be here.”
Valastro meets with about 25 potential wedding cake customers on Saturdays and Sundays. He currently has a three week waiting period for an appointment.
“I do it personally because I feel like the brides really want to connect with me. When you make a personal link with the brides and you feel them out, it makes life easier. Even if there’s a mistake, it’s easier because they have a personal connection with me.”
When meeting with brides, Valastro first finds out the type of design the bride wants, and then he starts talking about the price. He also isn’t afraid to up the price if he feels the bride may be too much trouble or if the cake she wants is too labor-intensive, especially for busy weekends. “A lot of times you end up selling the same cake because you know that your team can knock it out quickly, and it’s a good cake,” Valastro says. “At the end of the day, I’m here to make money.”