January 20th, 2011
02:30 PM ET
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Even during tough economic times, Baltimore's Charm City Cakes manages to thrive. Tom Foreman speaks with proprietor and Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman about his many-layered approach to building a sustainable business.



soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Marc

    CAKE BOSS?? So often his stuff is a sheet cake with stuff on top. B.O.R.I.N.G.

    January 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  2. Marc

    As an artist, I have no problem with the money Duff charges. He and his team are not interested in creating small, boring cakes. Instead, they stretch their creativity by creating complex cakes that take a lot of time. In addition, because they are long term employees, they make a good salary, I presume. So, complex cakes = lots of time + healthy salaries = expensive cakes. There are other bakeries that cater to simpler tastes. It's like asking for a handmade suit, but wanting to pay sweatshop prices.

    January 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  3. Savannah

    It is impossible to work with professional grade food coloring and cake decorating equipment and keep your hands pretty. Believe me. I tried. Also, as for the crew being stuck up they're really not. Mary Alice came to my hometown to judge a cake decorating competition and she was sweet as she could be. And as for the cakes being dry? Thats why they cover them with saran wrap. That mess works wonders.

    January 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  4. Don

    I saw Duff and a local food show here in Des Moines. He was very warm friendly and funny. For you to say he was is different without the camera running is making a large generalization. I sure you have had your off days too, and if it was the first and only time I ever meet you. I would not like like you eather. He explained how the show tapes 400 hours to every hour you see. You do the math and see why they don't show hand washing or other cleaning( Emril's show was live, a bit harder to edit). If you find watching some one cleaning good tv, try Martha Stewart. I have been in the restaurant biz for 20 years, You can't slide on your inspections and stay in business. FYI, an inspector once told me they had zero cases of illness due to hair in food. Most hair in food actual comes from the person eating the food.
    He does a very specilized product and yes most businesses doing these cakes charge big $. Why because you want it and will pay for it, so good for them. If Duff wants to have a walk in bakery or sell cakes to local restaurant, that's his choice. If it's not broke don't fix it. The show has been on for ten years and now the food network decided to move on. Charm City Cakes, You Rock!! We will miss you.

    January 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  5. Sara

    We had Charm City cakes do our wedding cake when my husband and I got married almost 4 years ago. We originally tasted a slew of flavors to decide on which we'd like. The samples were DELICIOUS! However, on the day of our wedding the cake was a little lopsided and it tasted horrible. I couldn't believe my parents paid almost $1,400 for a cake that tasted like cardboard.

    January 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  6. joecool16280

    This guy is annoying

    January 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  7. Becky

    Not sure how the cake can taste good when they start decorating it on Monday or Tuesday for a Saturday or Sunday event. Cake that sits around – and is handled by human hands, clean or otherwise, for a week can't be moist and tasty. As for the cost, he does cater to a certain clientele.

    January 23, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  8. goo

    you'll notice that how the cakes actually taste is never brought up...its just fondant wrapping structural stale yellow cake

    January 22, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Marc

      You must never watch the show. Time and time again customers rave how good the cake tastes, as if they are amazed that something so beautiful also tastes great.

      January 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
      • Becky

        What else are they going to say with a TV camera two feet from their face? Even if they were honest about it, it would be edited out.

        January 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  9. Cam

    For a grand a cake and more, I'll make my own.

    January 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  10. Khaleas

    CCC made our wedding cake (before they were this famous, late 2005) and they were awesome to work with and the cake was super tasty. Duff & his crew even created a flavor I had my heart set on and it was great. I'm not a fondant or buttercream person, hubby doesn't like cake at all but it was a very tasty cake. Probably the best vendor I worked with.

    January 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  11. Ed

    Can't stand Duff and his arrogance and quit watching him. I don't care who they are. His prices are unbelievable. Who thought paying several thousand dollars a cake. The average guy can't afford him and his get rich quick life style.

    January 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  12. chieatfetus

    .....and acutally since he's gotten famous, of course his prices are high but from what i've heard from other coworkers tastewise, the cake isn't all that.

    January 22, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  13. chieatfetus

    i went to college with him-SNOB.
    it's so amazing how fame can change you into a different person when at one point you were like everyone else.

    January 22, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • Pleasesucka

      Whatever - You're just upset that he wouldn't accept your friend request on Facebook.

      January 22, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • esmiranda

      ...yet another reason to avoid facebook, as if the whole "ONE OF US! ONE OF US!" mentality wasn't nauseating enough. And for anyone who says I dislike it because I have no friends, guess what? The people on facebook don't either. They just have strangers they "know" via electronic media. Like the people whose kids go hungry or drown while the parent is updating their profile. Get a life, or go tweet someone who cares, ya twit.

      January 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  14. Kim

    As a cake artist, I can tell you that Ace of Cakes product would not be in such high demand if they did not taste good. And to the negative posters out there, when is the last time you made a cake that looked anything like what Ace of Cakes makes? It is not an easy task at times to pull off what a client asks for, but that is also the fun of it!

    I like this show and have learned alot of tips by watching them. I say if you don't like something (like the fondant-BTW Marshmallow is the best) don't eat it (or watch it!). JMHO

    January 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  15. Paula

    Fondant is typically for decoration and not to eat, it doesn't really have an appealing flavour. There is always a layer of buttercream or icing of some sort beneath it. They do talk about the different filings, with the different flavors of cakes they use and have seen many shows where people are raving about the taste of the cake.

    Personally, I prefer Ace of Cakes to the Cake Boss show. The constant screaming and contrived drama on the Cake Boss is not that entertaining.

    January 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  16. The_dude

    Fondant is the worst crap ever. The dude does not abide.

    January 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  17. Kay

    I agree with Maggie. The Buddy Valastro's cakes are so much more creative and you actually see people in his bakery and eating his creations and loving it. Grant it, Aces of Cakes was the first show to get this reality food show going but it doesn't mean they are the best.

    January 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  18. Anson

    I've actually tasted a Charm City Cake. It was ordered for a friend in DC who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday. At his wife's request, it had a man standing on a hilltop, with footsteps in the path leading up and the words "It's all downhill from here." Just for fun, I counted the footsteps.

    There were exactly fifty. :>)

    The cake was delicious, although i do agree about the fondant. That got pulled to the side before I ate the cake.

    January 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  19. Amy

    People rave all the time about how great their cakes taste. I think some of you people here must not watch the show at all. The employees often talk about no matter how good it looks, it needs to taste great, because it is cake afterall. We rarely ever see any of the order-taking process. So, why would we see them doing tastings? I personally don't know what one of his cakes tastes like, because I've never been fortunate enough to try one, but they often show people talking about how good they are.

    January 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  20. SMC51

    For the person who's judging Duff by the cleanliness of his hands, please tell us how many cakes you bake and decorate per week? I used to have a cake decorating business and my hands and fingernails had commercial grade food color stains on them at all times. And I didn't turn out NEAR as many cakes as CCB does, and I rarely used fondant, which, if you've ever paid attention, requires HAND WORK. His hands are naturally going to show the effects of constantly being exposed to the paste food color that they use. It's not dirt that you're seeing, it's stains. Frankly, I wouldn't trust that he actually did any of the decorating if he had lily white hands.

    January 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  21. Maggie

    I tried watching "Ace of Cakes" but they never seemed to get around to the cake part, just goofing around. His cakes aren't all that great. Give me Buddy Valastro any day (CAKE BOSS ROCKS!!!).

    January 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • S

      Sorry Maggie, but I find that Ace of Cakes really shows the technical challenges of making these specialty cakes. Cake Boss is more about drama than the craft. Or the drama overshadows the craft, your choice.

      January 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Geoff

      SO AGREE! Cake Boss has a much better product. If I wanted to eat a rice crispy/ fondant construct I'd go to charm but if I wanted to actually enjoy some real cake? Buddy all the way.

      January 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  22. Brian

    The handwashing issue was covered in a clip show. Bascially "Handwashing makes for bad TV" and was followed by dozens and dozens of clips ofthem doing just that. Remember we see 60 min of a WEEK in the bakery. I for one am glad they edit out all the boring stuff.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Jesparza

      I was just going to say...it's not much fun to watch people constantly washing their hands and kitchen supplies. I'm sure they do it behind the scenes. And I'm willing to bet their cleanliness surpasses that of most fast food, and restaurants out there.

      January 21, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  23. Pam

    They tell you on their website and many times in the show that they aren't a walk in bakery. You can not just knock on the door and visit. Their cakes are all special order and start at around $1,000. But, people rave that the cakes taste as amazing as they look. Samples for a cake that most people couldn't afford in a local restuarant wouldn't be practical or expected. That's just not their demographic.

    January 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • I haven't seen the show in some time

      and am enjoying the comments here, good and bad

      I do wonder about the health dept. comments, I don't remember seeing them being even alittle concerned (Emril Lagasse for example always is washing, wiping using towels, talking about awareness and what to do to avoid contamination)

      these guys don't for example, as I read from above, do any prep cleaning of the PVC pip, no hair nets, and the comment about the fingernails as well from above all rang true to what I remember when I watched the show when it was a choice from my cable

      January 21, 2011 at 11:30 am |
      • JJ

        Had not considered the cleanliness but now that you mention it, it doesn't seem very clean where they make the cakes.

        January 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Becky

      Ha. It would take someone 5 minutes to frost one of their cakes and take it across the street every morning. Think of the good will - and the attraction it would bring to the area. That would be a better way to treat their fan base than the way they do it now. And come on, they aren't "a bakery," it is a TV show that relies on its fans for its success and they should reach out a little. It's misleading when they seem so nice and fun on TV and then are completely inaccessible, even to covering the windows with black plastic. It totally turned me off Charm City. Never watch it now. You go there, you'll see.

      January 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • esmiranda

      Cakes that start at $1000? PT Barnum was right, there is one born every minute....and it looks like you CAN put a price on pretentiousness.

      January 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
      • JD

        Not only do they have their minimum price at a $1000: to get a design/tasting appointment with them is $100... once price is established, you have to put down 50% of the cake price, of which is non-refundable... and if you want it delivered, it costs roughly $175 an hour. They need to change their name to Price gouging City Cakes

        January 23, 2011 at 3:25 am |
      • DD

        Speaking of pretentious - I'm trying to figure out why anyone would think that a working bakery of specialty cakes – as they pointed out is the subject of a TV show – would have the time to roll out the welcome wagon (in the form of allowing walk-ins, or peering in the window, or samples at the restaurant across the street) to every fan that showed up at their door. As for the price - the key word is specialty. Its up to the buyer to decide if its special enough to pay what they charge and they don't seem to be hurting for business (in their unpretentious neighborhood).

        January 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
      • Becky

        This is in reply to DD...Cake Boss finds plenty of time to meet with his "public" and he works out of an unpretentious neighborhood, too. And again - Duff's is not a bakery. I can walk into a bakery and buy baked goods for a reasonable price, as you can at the Cake Boss's place. If I want a specialty item from that bakery, sure I will pay more. Not $1,000 more ...

        January 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  24. Becky

    We visited there – don't ever think you will get in to see the place. I know its busy, but it is locked down tight and there is a rather rude note on the door about needing an appointment to get in. The windows are all covered with black paper. They can see out but you can't see in. It is in this weird little neighborhood, too. Nothing like what we expected. BUT there is an awesome restaurant/bar across the street with the greatest staff that understands it has famous neighbors and really caters to its customers with regard to Duff and his crew. Interesting though, there are a lot of cake choices for dessert there, but it doesn't come from Charm City. Hmmmm....even samples would be expected, don't you think? Win-win for both places in my opinion, but whatever. Except for lunch, our visit to Charm City Cakes was a huge disappointment.

    January 21, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Ric

      They say on their website that they're a bakery, not a tourist attraction. Think about how little work they'd get done if they had to glad-hand with every fan of the show that visited Baltimore. Also consider the markup on a custom cake vs a slice of diner red velvet. That's why you don't see samples across the street.
      Pam - you nailed it

      January 21, 2011 at 11:03 am |
      • SMC51

        I for one would be happy just having my picture taken in front of the shop. Their website does indeed say they're not a tourist attraction, and that's fine. I just want to go there and see the shop "in real life." And then eat at the place across the street referred to in an earlier post.

        January 21, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  25. realist

    Looks, looks, looks. A cake can look great(i've made better) but it's what it tastes like that counts. No one evr says how good it tastes, just that it looks awesome. I for one wouldn't want the taste of rice crispy treats, wooden boards, PVC transfering to my piece of cake. They never wash any of the 'supplemental materials' they use. they also never wash their hands....gross1 check out duff's fingernails the next time you watch an episode, and you'll think twice about eating something he's touched. Not to mention the nose and face wiping and sweat. how does he get the health departments approval?

    January 21, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Lucretia_Borgia

      Yes! No one ever says how good it tastes. You never see anyone conducting tastings. You don't see them asking what the customer likes in terms of taste.

      I would NEVER EVER buy a cake from them. No hats or hair nets–except for Duff, who I like. But his people are sloppy and unhygenic. I don't want to eat their hair.

      January 21, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Ruth

      It is very possible that the hand washing is simply edited out for time. Also, Duff's fingernails might appear in an episode or two looking "gross" but as a cake decorator I can tell you that in all probability it's the dye they use in the cake air brush sprayer. My cuticles and any "dead" skin on my hands is always discolored. Also some of the icing dyes are incredibly staining. I frequently use a color that is neon pink, but I refer to it as the scary pink. It actually stains... stainless steel. Today I did some Valentine cakes and cupcakes to build up a backstock... my hands are pink and red. Despite washing them numerous times.

      January 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Lynn2099

      If you read the book they put out years ago, they explain that all of the hand washing *is* edited out due to time. (Apparently, they get that question a lot.) And yes, customers are often expressing how much they enjoy the flavor of the cakes, much to the customer's surprise at times. As Duff has said, they wouldn't get repeat business if their cakes didn't taste good, and if you watch the show regularly, you do see a fair amount of repeat business from an original client's family or company.

      January 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
      • LittleMo

        The hand-washing may be edited out but that still doesn't excuse no hairnets. II worked my way through college in restaurants and in a grocery store deli area. None of those places allowed anybody to handle food without wearing some sort of glove,i.e., those clear plastc things, even latex, but you had to wear something. Cook didn't b/c their job technically didn't require them to touch the food with their hands – utensils were used. I know that not everyone does things the correct way, especially when it a kitchen gets really busy but on Duff's show, it was like people cooking out of their own kitchens. You don't know what they could have picked up just touching a piece of furniture and then they handle baked goods meant for customers? No sanitary requirements there at all. I wouldn't buy their stuff, either.

        January 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
      • Marc

        LittleMo: I could not disagree more. I've worked in lots of kitchens as well, and have never, ever seen anyone wearing gloves... It's simply not possible to get proper cooking done wearing those. Most chefs, for example, check if a steak is done by poking it with their finger. Can't do that with latex. People who are paranoid that a person touched their food should stay home.

        January 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
      • Ruth

        @LittleMo, I manage a deli / Bakery. My employer requires gloves and hairnets. The health department in my state does not. And It is still impossible to do some tasks with gloves on. You cannot carry a rotisserie spear with 15 pounds of wet slippery chicken on it with plastic gloves on, the weight pulls the gloves off and the result is 4 or 5 chickens on the floor. All you can do is put the chicken in the oven, go wash your hands and then dip them up to the elbows in the sink full of sanitizer. You cannot handle bread dough with plastic gloves on, the gloves stick to the dough and pull them off your hands. The only thing you can do is sanitize your hands before you work with the dough. I'd be more concerned at checking to see if they sanitize surfaces between different food prep types (raw chicken cut up then use the same surface to cut up vegetables) or putting cardboard boxes on food prep surfaces that were sitting on a dirty shelf or floor and then not washing the surface before using it again. Cross contamination is responsible for deaths. I've never heard of anyone getting food poisoning from a hair.

        January 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  26. Sherri

    I think the use of tools and materials from other areas- electronics, home building, etc is pure genius. And, none of it matters if the cake doesn't taste good. Real sugar, real eggs, real butter= magic

    January 21, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • WarhammerTwo

      But fondant = awful! it ruins everything! it's like eating suger sweetened play-doh! Anytime I'm served cake with that garbage on, I peel it off before I eat it. Seriously, I don't care how good it makes the cake look, it tastes lousy! Kinda misses the whole point of a cake...

      January 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
      • SMC51

        Agree. Fondant is an excellent medium for artistic expression, but it tastes awful and ruins the cake it's on. Give me good old-fashioned buttercream or cream cheese icing any day. That being said, I truly enjoyed the show and the cast of "characters."

        January 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
      • L

        I agree!! I just don't get it. Cake is supposed to be cake and frosting. Not that bullet-proof, tasteless fondant stuff covering it. Yuck and more yuck.

        January 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  27. mizh

    I love that show and miss it, can't get it after we downgraded our cable... they are true cake artists, though. ALL his crew are very talented.

    January 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  28. Anita Souschef

    I love a guy who laughs. He is such a caring person. Loves his mama. Knows his fondant. And has a whisk tattoo. The whole crew is a joy.

    January 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • BOB_UD

      About 8 months ago my wife and I went to an event where Duff was judging a cake decorating contest. Duff was very indifferent to his fans and when people asked to get pictures with him, he walked away. So....when the TV cameras aren't filming, Duff isn't quite so "CHARM"ing. We have NOT watched the show since.

      January 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
      • esmiranda

        Celebrities are usually really nice when a camera is present. It's too bad, I'm sure they were each a real person at one time....

        January 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
      • seafer

        wow! I kinda figured if that would happen. you know how some people get when the fame is their way.. stuck up....

        January 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
      • Marc

        I would hate to be judged so severely on how I act on a single day in my life. I guess if I heard stories like this a lot, I would feel differently, but one person seeing him not at his best is not enough to hang him in my books.

        January 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
      • Linda

        I've met Duff twice and both times he was engaged with his audience, attentive and responsive to questions and signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans with enthusiasm and care. Don't dis the Duff, he is awesome.

        January 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
      • dnote

        Maybe he wasn't high at the time. Those bakers are the biggest bunch of bakers there is. Maybe his duties at the competition required him to not be high, therefore not so loose. I'm sure he is a nice of a guy as can be expected. Maybe you're just a stick in the mud. He can't be expected to accommodate every photo/autograph request.

        January 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
      • rlm29

        My daughter recognized Duff at the airport, and while she went to buy gum, I approached him and told him how much we enjoyed his show and asked for pic. This was unusual because I usually leave celebrities alone, everyone needs a moment. He was gracious and warm. It was around midnight and great way to start our trip.

        January 24, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  29. Gloria from Paso

    I enjoy Duff Goldman's shows. His company designs and makes fantastic cakes. He entertains and presents the challenges in the creation of his original cakes. Duff & his gang are fun and don't hide the mistakes or problems.
    I think his honesty is refreshing and his talent is amazing. Would love to be able to see and to eat one of his cakes some day.

    January 20, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
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