He’s the ‘Cake Boss’ with 21 bakeries and other successful businesses, but he’ll still wash toilets if he needs to

Buddy Valastro, the star of TLC’s Cake Boss.
Business Insider / Jessica Lin

If you’ve ever felt breathless just by looking at the life of a successful person, trust us, they feel the same way too.

Success is not just about hard work; it’s a mindset and a way of life that demands non-stop sacrifice. Just take the life of the one and only “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro as an example.

“When I look at my monthly calendar, it’s like a panic attack,” he says.

Valastro, 40, was in Singapore earlier this month to promote the season nine premiere of his global hit show “Cake Boss” on TLC Southeast Asia.

When we caught up with him at CulinaryOn in Raffles Place, he was an energetic talking machine who greeted people with hugs like he was in his own home. If he was jet-lagged and tired from his Asia tour, he didn’t allow it to show at all.

The recipe for success 

His boisterous laughter fills the room the moment we mention his string of successful businesses – 21 Carlo’s Bakery outlets, a Las Vegas Italian restaurant and a very aptly named Cakehouse Media production company.

On top of that, he has to fulfill the demanding roles of pastry chef, TV star, loving husband, responsible father-of-four and dutiful brother to four sisters.

TLC Southeast Asia

“You have to take it one thing at a time, one day at a time, and you have to try your best. It’s not easy.

“If my sisters fight, I’m the patriarch of the family, so I settle all family business too,” he says laughing.

But the Boss admits it’s not easy to do what he does, especially when he’s his own harshest critic – a characteristic he sees as decisive in the success of one’s career.

He says: “If what I did was easy, everybody would be me. I think that’s what separates certain people in life.

“There’s no bigger critic of me than me. When you meet other successful people, you’ll see a lot of attributes that you have… But with that being said, it’s a lot of hard work, believing in yourself, and not giving up.”

Part of why he pushes himself is because he says he harbours a desire to be a “Superman” to everyone who knows and loves him, including fans and customers.

But he’s painfully aware that you can’t please everyone.

Bad reviews, he says, are “heart-wrenching”, but he admits there are things even he can’t control, saying: “I want it to be exceptional (and) I want everyone to have a great experience. I wish I could make every single cannoli, but I can’t”.

There are just some customers (or viewers) who will never be happy no matter what you do, but that’s okay.

“You have to know that you put your best out there and you tried with all your heart, and you’re going to have people who love it and and people who hate it,” he tells us.

So he understands when other restaurants are having a bad day.

“Being in the spotlight, how can I throw stones? Baseball players, football players, everybody has an off day. What? You think chefs do? It is what it is,” he says.

Lessons from the Boss’ boss

When he was just 17, Valastro lost his dad to lung cancer and the weight of running the family business fell on his shoulders.

Till today, Bartolo Valastro, Sr. remains one his biggest influences, and he still conducts business with the same principles his father taught him years ago.

TLC Southeast Asia

Here are the most important lessons, in his own words:

1) A handshake is as good as your signature

“When you shake someone’s hand and you give them your word, it’s as good as gold… To me, my word or my handshake is just as good as my signature.”

2) Clean the toilet bowl with pride

“He taught me that you have to take the same amount of pride in cleaning the toilet bowl as you do in making a cake. If you put 100 per cent in everything you do, you’ll be successful in whatever you do.

“He used to tell me that with employees, if you’re not willing to work as hard, then they’re not going to… He would say, when you’re working on a bench, you have to do two to their one. You have to be working harder and faster than everyone to set the tempo.

“He put me through all the jobs at the bakery – I’ve been the dishwasher, the toilet bowl cleaner, the wedding cake baker, the delivery guy… And being the boss today, I have a lot more admiration for all the different jobs because I’ve done them. And I’m not afraid to still do them if I have to. So I think it’s learning from the bottom and understanding things.”

A career built on non-stop sacrifice

While the journey to success hasn’t been easy, there’s nothing he would do differently if he could do it all over again.

He says: “I think I’ve had an amazing run. Here and there, I’ve made some mistakes but I think if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn. You need a little failure in your life so it drives you more, it makes you more focused.”

TLC Southeast Asia

When the spotlight of showbiz gets tiring, his favourite place to go to is home.

“I made my choice 10 years ago, when I put myself on TV and put myself out there, that this life is going to come with good and bad, and you have to take both,” he says.

Instead of being miserable about it, he says he chooses to focus on the people he has inspired and continue being the “Superman” they need him to be.

He concedes that the attention can sometimes be a little annoying, but “it’s what I signed up for”.

For better, for worse

When we ask if his family feels the strain of being in the spotlight, he says: “You want to test a marriage? You become famous.”

Valastro and his wife Lisa got married when he was a 24, and she was a 21-year-old who fell in love with a baker.

But when he chose to be the star of his own TV show, things changed for the family.

A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro) on

“Now all of a sudden, your wife shares you with millions of people… The spotlight was on her as well (and) it was really tough on her,” he says.

But seeing the impact his show had on others, Mrs Valastro came to understand why her husband did what he did. And now, they are celebrating 16 years of marriage and their relationship, he says, has never been better.

A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro) on

The fact that the entire family is so supportive is probably what he counts as his biggest blessing.

Just recently, his son Buddy, who is in the seventh grade, called him from school sounding nervous. It turned out that he had to read a letter to the person who has inspired him the most as part of an assignment.

A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro) on

“He read this letter to me on how I was his hero. How he sees how much I sacrifice not only for me but for so many people, and how many people I make happy.

“He’s reading this letter to me and I’m crying like a baby because my son looks at me like that. And it makes you say to yourself that what you’re doing is right.

“My wife and kids, as busy as I am, I have such an amazing relationship with all of them. It’s the most important thing in my life,” he says.

It seems his efforts to be a superhero are not in vain after all.

But of course, there are still some things he can’t do.

We ask him if he had any tips for displaying a Cake Boss-style wedding cake in Singapore’s humid outdoors.

He simply laughs, saying: “It’s a trick between air-conditioner or refrigeration – it’s tricky… I’m good, but I’m not a magician!”

Season 9 of Cake Boss will premiere on TLC Southeast Asia (StarHub 427 & Singtel 254) on Nov 15, 9pm.