Not necessarily a piece of cake
Baltimore bakery finds success, challenges in TV show
Duff Goldman and Geof Manthorne have gotten used to working in the spotlight as they decorate cakes for clients ranging from local brides to the cast of ABC's "Lost."
But although the bakers at Baltimore city's Charm City Cakes have traveled to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in California and the set of "Lost" in Hawaii, they still think of their establishment as Baltimore's local bakery.
Rarely is the camera off the bakery or its colorful staff, who have been the stars of Food Network's "Ace of Cakes" since 2006. Film crews are present in the bakery six days a week, with one minute televised for every 400 videotaped, Manthorne said.
The constant exposure has brought Charm City Cakes national attention, but has also dramatically affected business operations.
"It was an instant increase," Goldman said about the sales response to the first show. "We had to think on our feet real quick. All of the sudden, we were booked out. We could have opened another facility, but that would take the magic away from what we did."
Charm City Cakes opened in 2002, blossoming out of Goldman's part-time home business. By 2005, he purchased his own building, where 22 employees now work.
Business continued to grow, and eventually Goldman and Manthorne, the bakery's executive sous chef, found themselves in one of Food Network's competitions.
"We wanted to learn from others," Goldman said. "Food Network enjoyed the interaction between Geof and myself. These competitions can be very dry, but we're musicians and artists. They wanted to do background stories, so they came to the bakery and then were like, Wow! There's 12 of you and you're all crazy.'"
Network officials then spoke with Goldman's screenwriter brother in Hollywood, and before Goldman even knew about the negotiations, Food Network was presenting him with a show deal.
"We didn't ask for it or want it. It just happened," he said.
Although the men's initial concerns about being negatively portrayed on the show were allayed after they saw an episode, they soon realized they could not continue to operate their business as they had.
Charm City Cakes had been turning out 40 cakes per week, but with the show taking up so much time, the bakers had to reduce that to 15 at most. They developed a rating system for cake projects, assigning days based on the difficulty. Some weeks they may produce only five, even though they may work 18-hour days.
"We're always focusing on quality, since once the quality goes, the show goes," Goldman said.
The business also had to take on staff to read the fan mail, jumping from 12 employees to 22, Manthorne said. They had to develop waivers for customers to sign to acknowledge they might not appear on the show, a response to some clients demanding money back when they saw they were not included, Goldman said.
Camera crews occasionally travel with Goldman to weddings and shoot the reception of the cake. They usually stay on the sidelines unless invited, while Goldman has always wanted to be "the guy the groom hangs out with," he said.
Cake revenue has also decreased despite the rising prices due to the market, Goldman said. He said business profits are boosted with paid appearances and marketing deals.
Still, the partners agree the benefits outweigh the challenges of the show.
"You've got to always be on, even when walking through the airport. Every fan is a customer. It's a pretty good problem to have," Goldman said.
"People enjoy the novelty of it. Baltimore has always been known as a quirky, regional place," he said.
He also appreciates the attention "Ace of Cakes" has brought to professional cake decorators, giving them a way to show how hard they work.
"There's been a jump in the diversity of cakes since the show," Goldman said. "And so many boys now think it's cool to decorate cakes."
Charm City Cakes is also looking into a West Coast location in Los Angeles, as the bakers now will drive anywhere to deliver a cake and the fees can be expensive.
"We know we're a strange business," Goldman said. "But our standards have become astronomically huge. When TV goes away, we'll never lose that."