The Cake Boss Brings Family-Style Cooking to Vegas
Since “Cake Boss” first premiered on TLC a decade ago, Buddy Valastro and his family have found their way into homes across America. Valastro’s baking empire now extends across multiple TV shows and new bakeries nationwide.
Although the show focuses on Valastro’s sweet creations, it also offers a glimpse into the Valastro family’s life outside of the bakery. And a big part of that is centered around food. The Italian family’s cooking is at the center of birthdays, anniversaries, and baptisms.
“Professionally, they are a baking family,” restaurateur Elizabeth Blau says. “Personally, their family is all about food and all about family celebrations.”
It was a natural decision for the Valastros to get into the restaurant business.
It’s very apparent the family has a strong emotional tie to cooking and they’re good at it, Blau says. In order to bring a professional touch to their cooking, they needed to find the right partners to turn their dream of an Italian restaurant into a reality.
Those partners turned out to be Blau and chef Kim Canteenwalla. Blau has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry. She is the founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based restaurant development company Blau + Associates. Canteenwalla has been cooking in some of the country’s top kitchens for more than 25 years.
“I think our partnership was just about bringing that professional side to it,” Blau says. “Because, obviously, baking is different than the restaurant business. Our family has that same passion, although we're not Italian, everything for us centers around family and food. So I think it was just an easy fit.”
The first Buddy V’s opened in the Las Vegas casino and resort, The Venetian, in 2013.
The whole family was involved in developing the food at Buddy V’s. The menu features recipes that have been passed down through many generations.
Before opening the restaurant, the restaurateurs met up with the Valastro family at the Carlo’s Bakery Lackawanna facility to taste a variety of dishes. Aunt, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins all contributed, Blau says.
The family actively remains involved with the menu and developing new dishes. Buddy’s wife, Lisa Valastro, has her own cooking show on YouTube and is constantly coming to the restaurant with fresh ideas. Lisa was ahead of some trends including plant-based proteins. She has been cooking meatless meatballs for years and guests can still find them on the menu. Lisa’s love of Nutella also landed her a dessert named after her.
“She's a great cook, and she is constantly inspiring us with dishes,” Blau says. “They're so hands on and whenever they’re in Vegas ... they sit down and go through any new dishes. They continue to provide inspiration for all of us. So it's a great partnership, and we're really proud to have been selected by the family to represent them.”
The restaurant boasts authenticity, which is supported by the made-from-scratch cooking. Everything from pizza dough to sauce are made in-house and from the heart, Blau says. The classics, like Nonna’s Lasagna Al Forno and My Mother in Law’s Linguine Shrimp Scampi, remain available year round. But given the over-the-top setting of Vegas, the chefs are constantly introducing new dishes featuring seasonal ingredients and twists on traditional Italian classics.
“People would have a riot if we took our chicken parmesan or the linguine in clam sauce off the menu, so you’ve got to stick with the classics,” Blau says. “But we have fun things, like the macaroni and cheese carbonara, which kind of melts two classics together and we have a beautiful cheese and salumi plate. So some things that you may not find in a typical casual, family-style Italian restaurant.”
A major advantage of having the Cake Boss as a partner is the amount of creativity on the dessert menu. Las Vegas is the home of fun and celebrations and, Blau says, Buddy V’s has become a place to celebrate. “We just have fun with it,” Blau says.
The dessert menu also gives Cake Boss fans a chance to taste the desserts of Carlo’s Bakery without having to head to the East Coast. Two of Carlo’s Bakery’s mainstays—the cannoli and Lobster Tail—are available to guests to try with a little bit of Vegas flair.
“We find a lot of people coming in to celebrate because of Buddy and the bakery and the dessert side of things,” Blau says. “We see a lot of those Italian little birthday cakes going out just because people find it a fun place to celebrate.”
As a restaurant operator in Vegas, Blau understands the concept needs to remain flexible and innovative in order to compete with other restaurants. Buddy V’s has rolled out happy hour, lunch, and a weekend brunch to help bring in customers across different dayparts. The menus vary during these times and allow the brand to get even more creative. For example, during brunch guests can pursue offerings at an antipasto table, a sweets table, and a kids corner for the little ones.
“You have to constantly keep inventing yourself,” Blau says.
Over the past six years, two more Buddy V’s have opened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and McAllen, Texas. Rapid expansion is not in the playbook for Buddy V’s. Both partners are happy with where the brand is and will continue to grow organically. Using existing relationships he’s developed to expand his bakeries, Buddy has opened the new restaurants with partners he trusts.
“Buddy chose these locations because he feels it's right for his brand,” Blau says. “When your restaurant is named after yourself, you've got to first and foremost protect your brand. And so that's why you know we love working with them.”
Blau is unsure where the next restaurant will open. Everyone is content with the success of the three locations and they’ve turned down many offers to expand.
“Buddy’s focus is building a TV empire now,” Blau says. “The bakery and the shows are certainly his passion. But the restaurants are growing steadily, and it's not a matter of not wanting to open more. It's just waiting for that right opportunity.”