From Personal Chef to TV Star: How 'Ace of Cakes' Star Duff Goldman Built His Brand
Duff Goldman is the owner of Charm City Cakes and Charm City Cakes West, which you may remember from his Food Network reality television show Ace of Cakes. His work has been featured on the Oprah, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Food Network Challenge, Iron Chef America and Man v. Food. He is also the author of two books including the recent Duff Bakes. This month, he will star in another Food Network reality show, Holiday Baking Championship.
Goldman is the definition of a creative entrepreneur. He dabbled as a graffiti artist in his youth, decided to go to culinary school and then worked for himself as a personal chef. He expressed his creativity through outrageous cakes for his clients' events and parties. Soon, he was getting inundated with cake requests.
Recently, I sat down with him in his Los Angeles home to ask about his amazing media career, his businesses and his advice to aspiring creative entrepreneurs.
Start where you are.
Goldman actually took the leap from personal chef to bakery owner for reasons all too familiar to many of us: He needed cash in order to fund his dreams of touring with his band as a professional musician. Due to his local reputation as a personal chef, he knew he could use his culinary training to foot the bill. Goldman recalled, "I was just making cakes out of my apartment because I knew that was something I could sell to people."
He started out of his home, then rented an affordable "really gross catering kitchen" nearby. Later, he bought an old Lutheran church when he and his team needed more space.
Chances are you can start making more money, right now, where you are, by focusing on using your gifts to serve local clients. You don't have to start out with the perfect corner brick-and-mortar shop, a fancy website, tiered online courses, etc.
Learn as you go.
Goldman understood baking, the restaurant industry and creating great work. He had to learn how to actually be a business owner along the way. "A lot of it was just being an entrepreneur ... you see a problem and then you fix it. And then once you fix that you fix the next one and the next one and the next one. It's sounds a little cliché, but you just you try to make more right decisions than wrong ones," he explained. "You can be an amazing cake decorator, but owning a bakery is so much more than that."
Focus on generating revenue and learn how to solve each new problem as they arise while you grow.
But, understand the craft.
You can learn how to be a business owner in the trenches, but you need to fully understand your craft if you want to succeed.
"People want to go to culinary school and work in a restaurant, or people say I want to own a restaurant, open a restaurant, I always ask them, have you worked in a restaurant? ... Because it's hard work. It's manual labor, and there's an art to it and there's a craft to it, but there's also the work."
Goldman went on to explain that fame is a byproduct of being really good at one's craft. "If somebody wants to start a YouTube channel, be this YouTube baker, whatever they want to do ... you have to be good at it. There's just no getting around it. People see through."
Prepare for grunt work.
I have adopted a saying that I tell viewers of The Pursuit who write in about the frustrations of the early years in business:All work has grunt work, so why not do work you love? Everyone loves the second part but glosses over the first portion. Most of my millionaire guests have confessed that while they are living their dreams, there are still some tedious, boring or difficult tasks involved.
"I make running a bakery look really fun, really exciting and it looks like, oh my God, this is so much fun. We run around and we just goof off all day. It's not. It's not. What we're showing on TV is very small slice of what we really do ... that work stuff is boring. They're not going to show that on TV because people doesn't want to watch somebody doing inventory."
Learn to delegate.
If you're a solopreneur, it can be hard to imagine delegating parts of your projects and responsibilities, but Goldman says this is one the keys to his success. "Sometimes people are surprised to hear me say this, but a lot of it is also recognizing that there are people that do certain jobs in the bakery that are much better at that job than I am," he said. "You have to be ego-less. For a lot of people, that's a really difficult thing to let go of. Is being able to delegate and feeling comfortable enough with yourself that you can say to somebody else, 'You are better at this than I am.'"
If you're working with a group of creatives, delegating can sometimes feel like herding cats. Goldman says to make sure they fully understand the goal and the deadline, and then let them make cool things.
"Their primary motivation is they like to make things. When you can take somebody who's creative and you give them a job where they get to make things, it can be anything, ceramics, it can be whatever, then they're going to be a lot more self motivating."
Figure out your weaknesses and try to delegate them as quickly as possible so you can grow faster.
Make sure you actually love it.
Beyond grunt work, there is also the matter of consistency and endurance. Businesses that win are businesses that last. If you started something as a way to pay the bills or because it was trendy at the time, but you don't actually love it, it's time to pivot.
Goldman explained his love of baking explains his success. In fact, he had just made a batch of cookies before we arrived for the interview. "One of the reasons why I've been so successful with a bakery that's also in the media is that I genuinely love what I do. I love baking. I love it; I talk about it all the time. When I bake with people, they see and I can feel it. You're not going to fool the audience; you have to love it."
Be who you are.
Make sure you stay authentic to who you are as you build your brand and business. Goldman's media career took off because he and his team never tried to fit into the traditional bakery mold. They make cakes as large as full size cars, complete with a motor inside the cake that will spin the wheels. In one of his very first televised competitions, the TV crew decided to shoot b-roll of the different bakeries. One look inside Charm City Cakes was all it took to see the potential for a one-of-a-kind reality show.
"We're a bunch of weirdos. We're all musicians and artists and people [who] went to art school and they're actors and creative people that are creative. I'm a graffiti artist .... I'm a line cook that won the lottery."
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