UD Gains Sweet Experiential Learning Opportunity from Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss

Buddy Valastro returned to the University of Delaware campus on April 9 to speak with Blue Hen students and participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Carlo’s Bake Shop Cake Vending Machine in the Trabant Student Center.

Valastro donated the machine to UD so it could be used to create experiential learning opportunities in data analytics for students in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

“It’s doing very well and we’re making money, which will go to pay for scholarships for students to travel and attend conferences,” said Sheryl Kline, deputy dean and Aramark Chaired Professor in the Lerner College Department of Hospitality and Sport Business Management. “We have students who actually manage the filling, physically doing the inventory and rotating the stock.”

In addition, students in a course taught by Assistant Professor of Hospitality Business Management Tim Webb are currently analyzing data and will make analysis judgments which will be implemented into the machine next spring.

“Since it opened, the data has been being stored. Rather than just blindly making adjustments, we’re trying to assess first what the performance is and where are the opportunities, and from there we’re going to analyze the results,” Webb said.

Valastro, known as “The Cake Boss,” has taken an entrepreneurial approach to evolve his family’s bakery business to include TV shows, bakeries, restaurants and 50 cake vending machines across North America.

Valastro attended the ceremony along with his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Sofia, a junior at UD majoring in hospitality business management. He began the day with lunch at Vita Nova, the University’s student-run gourmet restaurant, before speaking to UD students for roughly an hour in Purnell Hall.

Buddy and Sofia then cut the ribbon to officially christen the cake vending machine, which has been open in Trabant since October.

“It’s wonderful to have Buddy and Lisa here,” said UD President Dennis Assanis, who attended the event. “Every time you come to teach our students in hospitality management, we really appreciate it so much. You teach them life lessons and really show them the combination of hard work, creativity, imagination, and entrepreneurship, and what they can do if they all work together. Thank you so much for coming.”

The event continued the University’s partnership with Valastro, whose empire includes 13 bakeries in the United States and Canada and a full-service restaurant in The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. Valastro also spoke on campus in November 2021 and October 2022 as part of the Paul Wise Speaker Series.

“It’s always such a pleasure to come here,” Valastro said. “The University of Delaware is amazing; my daughter is a junior and has been here for three years now, and she really feels like she’s learning so much to contribute in our businesses and what we’re doing. I love to come back and see these kids, just make them believe in themselves, and give them a dose of my story and life. Hopefully they walk away learning a little more about me and hopefully I inspired some of them to follow their dreams.”

Valastro, who assumed his role as leader of his family’s business, Carlo’s Bakery, at 17 when his father died of cancer, has spent the last 30 years building his brand to include over 1,000 employees and a 100,000-square-foot bakers manufacturing facility in New Jersey.

“I just told them my story of how I became who I am and how I still work very hard, about always being humble, always working with your employees, always being the first one in and the last one to leave, and leading by example. I feel like that’s been the secret to my success,” he said in explaining his message to Blue Hen students.

Kline, who was one of several Lerner staff members to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, was also appreciative of Valastro’s visit to campus.

“We’re thrilled to have Buddy back in our classroom,” she said. “He shares his life story, which really is if you work hard, if you innovate, if you think about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, you’ll be successful.”

Kline noted that UD students are managing the vending machine, including conducting data analytics and learning how to run a small business right on campus as part of their classroom learning experience.

According to Webb, data includes sales from the machine, both by product type and quantity, when the purchases are occurring, and repeat customers.

“They’re creating dashboards to analyze the data and look at different factors – if you change the prices will you sell more? If you move cakes around on different shelves, how will that affect how many red velvet cakes you sell vs. chocolate cakes?” Kline explained.

“They’re really looking at ways to sell more, and that’s good practice for when you run a business. That’s what we do in Lerner College – we have classes that feature real world experience,” Kline continued. “(The students) run real businesses. We have a restaurant in Vita Nova operated by students, we have a hotel where the students rotate through, and we do events that students plan and execute.

“And now they’re running a cake vending machine business.”

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