The ‘Cake Boss’ effect

Has popular Hoboken reality show boosted business, tourism?

Hundreds of fans with photos and video cameras – not to mention security guards and police barricades – are not what you’d expect to see outside your neighborhood bakery. But Hoboken residents have witnessed all of the above, much to the joy of some and the chagrin of others, since Carlo’s Bakery on Washington Street became the subject of a TLC reality show just 14 months ago.
The show follows the exploits of baker Buddy Valastro of Hoboken and he sternly directs his staff to churn out elaborate cakes at the 100-year-old family-owned bakery.


“It’s more like a fascination that they have a bouncer at a bakery.” – Alex Johnston

While the show has clearly increased his business – he is constantly in the press for creating cakes for celebrities around the county – not many people have discussed the effect of the show on the mile-square city where the bakery lies.
On the internet, local residents have complained that they now have to stand in long lines to grab a cannoli, while others are fascinated by the show and think it brings more business to town.

Drove five hours

These days, the bake shop, across from City Hall on First and Washington streets, has a barricade in front of it to keep the long lines orderly.
Two Saturdays ago, a tourist from Maryland, Cynthia Johnson, said she drove more than five hours with her daughter Amber Garrison and niece Ashley Raab just for Carlo’s. They were thrilled to find that TLC and Carlo’s happened to be thanking Hoboken that day with a public block party, including free treats and amusements. (Valastro also announced that proceeds from his shop that day would go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity with which he’s done a lot of work.)
Johnson and the girls couldn’t believe that the line for the bakery wrapped around the block.
“This is worse than an amusement park,” said Garrison, but she didn’t seem to mind the wait. All three women said they were excited to be standing outside Cake Boss headquarters, and especially to take a photo with Sal Picinich, a bakery staffer who appears on the show.
In fact, one of the bonuses of visiting the bakery is that residents can go in and enjoy the goods, unlike another popular cable food show, “Ace of Cakes,” which features an artistic cake-making company in Baltimore. However, that bakery does business through private orders and lacks a storefront. Its website specifically says that people can’t drop in and visit.

The good and the bad

Carlo’s Bakery’s success has inspired some nearby residents and businesses to offer something for tourists.
Hoboken resident Avi Ohring started “Mangia Hoboken” this year, a “food tour” that takes tourists to Hoboken’s family-owned bakeries, delis, and restaurants. For $40, tourists can try fresh mozzarella from Fiore’s and chocolate from Lepore’s, not to mention fresh baked bread, specialty sandwiches, and gourmet coffee from other Hoboken favorites. Of course, there is a stop at Carlo’s.
Ohring said the popularity of Cake Boss pushed him to start the business after he’d been thinking about it for some time. With all the extra people coming to Hoboken, Ohring realized the potential and began taking reservations with the eateries last summer. Some of his clients, he said, have traveled thousands of miles to see Carlo’s and maybe catch a glimpse of Valastro.
Ohring, a Hoboken resident of 24 years, said he’s never bothered by the congestion downtown and that he’s even tried to convince town officials to display tourist information on the same block as Carlo’s – so that visitors will see the other parts of Hoboken. After all, the city contains several of Frank Sinatra’s childhood homes, as well as a new waterfront walkway, a historical museum, and other attractions.
“I wish the city would do something to harness all that,” Ohring said.
Not everyone is as optimistic. Comments on the internet sometimes reflect long-time residents’ laments that they don’t want to wait on long lines for a crumb cake.
Valastro acknowledged this when he accepted a “goodwill ambassador” award from the Hoboken City Council in March.
“I feel bad for my Hoboken patrons who sometimes have to wait on line,” he said at the council meeting, and laughter ensued. “But I’m trying to work as hard as I can to expand and keep up with the ongoing demands.”

Sorry, can’t use our bathroom

Not only have fans been demanding more from Valastro and his bakery, but also from nearby businesses. Several business owners said tourists come looking for bathrooms and more quarters to feed the parking meters.
At Robert De Ruggerio Inc. Realtors on the corner, weekend administrator Beverly Dow-Graffeo said she was forced to put up the sign that reads “Sorry, no public bathroom” in bold red type on the front door.
“I don’t want to be rude, so I give them a heads up before they even try,” she said. “That doesn’t stop people.”
Dow-Graffeo said she doesn’t like to turn down children, but she’s already had to stay after hours to plunge a toilet that’s really meant for employees and clients only.
However, she has helped some people who came for Carlo’s start their search for a place to live in town.
“We’re advertised [on] the whole corner,” said Dow-Graffeo. “They’re wrapped around the corner. They have to read us. Whether or not they actually come in, we’re in their heads. Anything helps.”
Emanuel’s Salon, located a few doors down from the bakery, has tried to adapt to the change and accommodate the influx of tourists by offering them specials on manicures and other services, said stylist Nadine Negron-Tuduri.
Negron-Tuduri said that Valastro and his show have been good for the town. “He brought Hoboken back on the map,” she said.
Still, some residents can’t believe the crowds.
“We are curious just to know who does wait in line for these kinds of things,” said Alex Johnston, who was walking by the bakery with his wife Kate on Father’s Day. “It’s more like a fascination that they have a bouncer at a bakery.”
“It makes me sick to my stomach that people care this much about a stupid show,” added Kate Johnston, “but it’s okay with me, I guess. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
Many Hoboken locals agreed that it simply further proves the power of TV.

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