When Mohegan Sun celebrated its 15th anniversary in October 2011, Buddy Valastro was there for the star-studded festivities, presenting a massive custom cake featuring renditions of the Uncasville resort casino's most iconic structures. There was the Wolf Den, the Sky Tower finished in sleek silver, the angular Wombi Rock, the Taughannick Falls Bar with an azure cascade of "water" and even a sugar replica of "River Blue," the casino's prized glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly.
Almost four years later, cameras flashed and crowds gathered again at Mohegan as Valastro, better known as "Cake Boss" to fans of his TLC reality show, opened an outpost of Carlo's Bakery, his business that originated in Hoboken, N.J.
Since the show first aired in the spring of 2009, Valastro has achieved widespread fame for his intricate cake designs and lively personality. After the anniversary celebration, Mohegan executives expressed an interest in bringing a Carlo's location to the casino, he said, but he wasn't quite ready at the time.
"I needed to perfect the model a little bit before we were ready to open [at Mohegan,]" Valastro said by phone. "The first one we had to do was closer to home."
But over the next few years, more Carlo's bakeries began popping up throughout New Jersey, and soon crossed state lines into New York and Philadelphia. Another debuted at The Venetian in Las Vegas. And in December 2014, Mohegan Sun announced that Valastro's brand would finally join its roster. By the time the casino's bakery opened its doors on Sept. 12, it marked the 11th Carlo's location in the United States. Now he's part of the "famiglia," to borrow one of the show's catchphrases.
"It was the perfect time to do Mohegan," Valastro said. "I couldn't have picked better partners or a better place."
The newest Carlo's is the first in New England, selling the Italian sweets and pastries made famous by the Hoboken original. Casino guests have quickly lined up for cookies, cupcakes, cannoli, tarts and the bakery's signature cream-filled "lobster tails."
Mohegan's location also is the first to offer a new concept: the Sweet Room, a stylish, 30-seat dessert lounge open in the evenings. Situated next to the retail storefront, it's a haven for those whose favorite part of the meal is the finale. And for the most dedicated sweet tooth, there's even a five-course dessert tasting, with a diverse selection of confections for $65.
Valastro said the idea came about when he and his team were trying to decide what to do with the area next to the bakery. He'd considered a few options, like an ice cream shop, but the sweets-focused dining room seemed like the best use of the space.
"I wanted to make plated desserts … stuff that [guests] particularly couldn't get in the showcases, and try to do some over the top stuff — big, warm, delicious desserts. … I've been mulling that idea over for a while. When the space was there, when we had it, it just seemed like a no-brainer."
Individual desserts in sizable portions are $15 apiece. The menu will rotate regularly, especially with seasons, but recent items included a passion fruit-limoncello tart with caramelized lemon cake and lemon sorbet; the "Italian Stallion" hazelnut-chocolate crostata with café au lait ice cream and the "Americana-Italiano," a play on American and Italian tastes with strawberries, vanilla cake, panna cotta and strawberry sorbet. Among the sweets, there's also a cheese plate with local and imported selections, accompanied by herbs, edible flowers, honeycomb and house-baked naan. A liquor license is in the works, and Valastro and his staff hope to offer wine pairings and cocktails alongside the treats.
One dessert enjoys permanent status on the Sweet Room menu: "My Dad's Cream Puff Cake," paying homage to Valastro's late father, Bartolo Valastro Sr. The elder Valastro ran the original Carlo's Bakery from 1964 until his death in 1994; his son, then 17, stepped up to fulfill his father's legacy. The beloved recipe features a layered construction of puff pastry, Italian sponge cake brushed with San Marzano liqueur and San Marzano-infused pastry cream, presented artistically with a chocolate-drizzled cream puff, sliced strawberries and dark chocolate curls.
"I'm very proud of that cake," Valastro said.
Valastro has tapped Chad Durkin, a contestant on season 3 of his "Next Great Baker" competition show, to serve in a research and development and operations management role. At the new Mohegan location, Durkin has been responsible for hiring and training staff members and ensuring that the bakery and Sweet Room run smoothly and efficiently, in addition to executing Valastro's ideas and concepts.
It's a high-volume operation, serving guests daily from 7 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Durkin says the kitchen "can pump out 7,000 cupcakes, easily, in one day," and he expects the coming holiday season to be hectic. Like its sibling locations, the Mohegan bakery also now offers a convenient grab-and-go option, accommodating pre-orders for cakes and pastries.
Valastro is about to take the Carlo's brand international, with bakeries scheduled to open in São Paulo, Brazil, and Bahrain.
"It's a dream come true, to be able to do that," he said. "It's really been an awesome ride."
"We're bringing back the old-school bakery," Durkin said. "From the world of convenience where every supermarket sells pastries … what other bakery chain do you know that's still [a] family-owned, still scratch bakery, is expanding as greatly as this? It's hard to find nowadays. It's ambitious; it's inspiring for people."
>>Carlo's Bakery is open Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. The Sweet Room is open Monday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. 860-862-9270 and carlosbakery.com.