By Corey Baumer
In a brick building just over one million square feet and only blocks from the Hudson River, Carlo’s Bakery’s Lackawanna headquarters is exuding sugary aromas every single day. With around seventy thousand of these square feet dedicated solely to the business of dessert, Jersey City has a sweet tooth’s goldmine in its midst. While most pastry-enthusiasts have to enjoy the Cake Boss’ sweets behind the glass of their televisions, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a private tour of the factory.
We started in the office, where family pictures and posters covered the walls. What started out as the overarching sweet smell of sugar quickly transformed as we walked from room to room. In the decorating room, the scent of icing filled the air. As we kept walking, the scent changed from dough, to finished cakes, to chocolate, and back again.
However, the one thing that didn’t change from room to room was the amiability and warmth of the staff. Each decorator, baker, mover, and shaker proudly donned a Carlo’s Bakery t-shirt and was quick to explain to us exactly what they were working on. At least six cakes were being separately worked on in the decorating room, with sugar figures hand sculpted and fresh sheets of fondant laid over yellow sponge cake, while thousands of Italian butter cookies were made and sprinkled in the next room.
Just as the mouthwatering became unbearable, my tour culminated in the conference room with Mauro Castano and a plate of freshly baked goods. I wasn’t sure whether to focus on the celebrity in front of me or the lobster tail, white chocolate mousse, cannoli, cookies, biscotti, and crumb cake. I decided to attempt to multitask and stuff my mouth whilst simultaneously questioning Mauro. This task proved impossible when each bite that I put in my mouth completely took over every single one of my senses. Mauro, understanding exactly how equally flaky and creamy his lobster tails are, patiently waited for me to taste everything on the plate before diving into the interview.
Mauro started by talking about, what else, his wife, Maddalena. In 1988, Mauro was helping with the moving of Carlo’s Bakery to its current location, working under Buddy Sr., his future father-in-law. One day, Mauro went up to Buddy Sr. and nudged him, and asked, “just between guys,” who the hot chick that just walked in was. Buddy Sr. quickly informed Mauro that the “hot chick” that just came in was his daughter. While many fathers would dismiss Mauro’s comment, and maybe even hold a slight grudge, Buddy Sr. saw a spark between the two and eventually set them up. The two have been happily married ever since, and Mauro even has a tattoo of Maddalena bearing the words “Madd 4 You” to prove it! Mauro describes him and his wife as “old school,” saying, “she takes out my clothes and cooks dinner. I take out the trash.”
Through working on construction and dating Maddalena, Mauro eventually started helping out with the bakery more, doing deliveries and assisting behind the counter. When Buddy Sr. passed away in 1994, Mauro took a leave of absence from the job he was working at the time to help more, and things just snowballed from there. Mauro and Buddy Jr. became very close very quickly, and Mauro has since been Buddy’s right hand man. “We’re exactly the same if the cameras are on or if they’re not. I’m not going to change just because there are cameras. There’s no rehearsing. We come in and do what we do, whether they’re there or not. And Buddy listens to everyone. He makes the final call, but he listens to everyone. If I give him input and he makes a different choice, I trust him to be doing the right thing. Buddy is the hot dog, everyone else is the bun and the ketchup.”
When I asked about their now-famous antics and pranks, Mauro was quick to inform me that he is never the victim. “They know they’d suffer,” he laughed. “It’s a family business. The whole staff really feels like a family. We’re always together. We just got someone three times in one day on their birthday!”
Even when the questions I asked had seemingly nothing to do with the family, the answers always seemed to circle back in that direction. When I asked what meal he would have on his last day on earth, and without even the slightest hesitation, he told me his wife’s steak pizzaiola, hands down. When I asked for five words to describe himself, he immediately answered that he’s hard working, emotional, enjoys his work, and lives for his family. He then spoke about Buddy Sr. again, saying Buddy liked Mauro because he was hardworking and up for any task. “I love shopping at Shoprite. People ask me why I don’t have people do it for me, but I love it.”
As the interview drew to a close, Mauro divulged his guilty pleasure: card collecting. “I just love it. I don’t let anyone else touch them. It’s what I do to relax. I just sit on the floor and sort through them.” As the owner of almost twenty million baseball cards, Mauro had no trouble naming his single most valuable item: “I have a baseball bat signed by Mike Piazza. But I like the cards more.”
After almost an hour with Mauro, I felt like we’d been friends for years. Mauro laughed easily and there was never a shortage of conversation. The family man and baker of more than twenty years was more than a pleasure to sit down and share a cannoli with. Come see him do a baking demonstration at this year’s Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival on Saturday, September 20th in Mamaroneck, NY, and go visit the new Carlo’s Bakery, opening soon in Greenwich CT!