I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
In November 2014, I was on my way home from work one night, aimlessly scrolling through Twitter, when I saw the headline that would come to haunt me for years: CAKE BOSS STAR BUDDY VALASTRO TRIED TO CHARM NYPD OUT OF DRUNK DRIVING CHARGE. The story more than lived up to my expectations. The cops had pulled Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro over on Tenth Avenue in Manhattan around 1 A.M., where he subsequently failed a field sobriety test. When the police officers arrested Valastro for drunk driving, according to the prosecutor, he told them, “I had a couple drinks. You can’t arrest me! I’m the Cake Boss.” Then, and this is decidedly less funny because it’s just sort of sad, he continued to cajole them, saying, “I’m a good guy. Can you just put me in a cab? I don’t have to be arrested, I’m not a bad guy.”
Months earlier, after graduating college, I had followed the migration pattern of many aspiring 21-year-old journalists who go to an expensive private upstate college: I moved to New York. The Big Apple, baby! However, because I was scared of New York City and also poor, I spent my first summer in the city far from the actual city: I lived with my mom’s extended family in far-flung Rockaway Park, Queens, and commuted in every day on the A train. This hour-and-a-half-long trip afforded me plenty of time to work through podcasts and crossword puzzles, and had the additional dubious benefit of dumping me out in the merciless armpit of Manhattan, the Port Authority subway station. Once there, I would leave as quickly as possible, but it was impossible to do so without passing by a bizarre mecca: Carlo’s Bakery, an offshoot of the Cake Boss’s Hoboken bakery. The TLC show shot at the original Carlo’s — which centers on the creation and comically fraught delivery of enormous novelty cakes — became massively successful over the course of 236 episodes, leading to spinoff shows, book deals, more bakeries in places like Brazil and Pennsylvania, and even a surge in tourism for Hoboken.
You couldn’t walk by Carlo’s Bakery without encountering the smiling, oversize visage of the Cake Boss himself: a window decal of Buddy Valastro, holding a rolling pin and donning a chef’s apron, smiling blankly. Though I passed under Valastro’s watchful eye almost daily for months, it wasn’t until later that year, when I read of Valastro’s arrest, that the Cake Boss franchise became imbued with new, darker meaning.
I couldn’t stop thinking about a drunk, bleary-eyed Valastro being pulled out of his car, desperate but trying to keep cool and play it off like a joke — telling the police they couldn’t arrest him because, after all, he’s the cake boss, and the police being like, okay whatever please just get in the police car. Ultimately, Valastro pleaded guilty to driving while impaired; he was fined $300, barred from driving in New York for three months, and had to take a drunk-driving class.
It was after his arrest that I began to research the Valastro family, and learned that despite the lighthearted nature of their TLC show, there’s a dark side to Carlo’s Bake Shop clan. One of the stars of Cake Boss, Remy, had been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old. Separately, in one episode of the show, Carmen Carrera — of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame — appeared and unknowingly participated in a “prank” in which Buddy’s Cousin Anthony was set up on a date with her. The “punchline” of the date was, uh, Buddy telling Anthony that Carrera is trans. Or, as Buddy says in the now-pulled episode: “And I tell him … that’s a man, baby!” Cool joke, guys!
Valastro’s DUI arrest had seemingly little immediate impact on the Cake Boss empire. Two months after his arrest, Cake Boss was renewed for two more seasons. More recently, however, the Valastro family seems to have stumbled upon some woes. After rapidly expanding their business to more and more bakeries, the family shuttered two of its New Jersey locations in January, and said in a statement that it would be pivoting to e-commerce. Last year, it closed two more locations in Red Bank and Westfield. Perhaps the Cake Boss legacy is the 21st century version of the Getty family curse: a rich legacy family beset by tragedy, and Valastro’s arrest was merely the linchpin for disaster. Only time will tell.
No matter how many other tragically uninteresting TLC reality-TV shows I’ll inevitably watch in my lifetime, I may never be able to stop thinking about the arrest of the Cake Boss. It’s an intoxicating cocktail: the entitlement of celebrity (“You can’t arrest me!”) combined with the hilarity of taking oneself seriously as a self-appointed boss (“I’m the Cake Boss!”).
On another level, though, when I remember Buddy and his arrest, I can’t help but think about how he seemed to have achieved the American dream for a second there. He had it all: a rambunctious, loud, loving family, a lot of bakeries, a lot of cake. But his arrest belied how fallible the Cake Boss was — how fallible we all are. Like the giant, monstrous New Jersey–themed cake Buddy made for Chris Christie’s inaugural ball, covered in fondant, propped up by plastic cylinders, Rice Krispies Treats, and toothpicks, Buddy’s fortunes could all come crashing down at any moment. And indeed they did.