Duff Goldman is California dreaming
TV viewers know Duff Goldman isn't afraid of a little risk. But as his popular Food Network show winds down, can he export his quirky Baltimore brand to the sunny environs of Los Angeles?
"I've never taken a loan — ever. And we're doing this expansion just like everything we've done in this bakery as we've grown. If we weren't able to afford paying for something cash, we didn't buy it. And that goes for this building, it goes for all of our vehicles. It goes for our ovens. … Why do I operate that way? Because I'm a neurotic Jew who doesn't want loans. I can't even carry a balance on my credit card without having a nervous breakdown."
Duff has deals with Michaels, Party City, Walmart and Target for Duff Goldman cake-baking products. And Blue Bunny Ice Cream will soon feature five flavors created by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate. The AEI Speakers Bureau lists him under "Speakers 5K and Above" per appearance. And he says he has "one to two offers a week" coming in.
He also has three new TV shows in development — two of which he's willing to discuss. One is about the move to Los Angeles, while another blends travel with pastries. Think Duff Goldman in pursuit of great desserts.
"I'm going to be branching out a little bit and just sort of studying the pastry world," he says of the production. "That's the one that is farthest along right now. One thing I've never been able to show off is how much I'm a student of food and cooking and food science. It's a travel show; it will be me going and checking out cool places, with me sort of talking about pastries and all kinds of desserts in a way that's accessible. That's the key — not science-y, not nerdy, not exclusive. Very inclusive."
Goldman wants to stay with the Food Network, the operation that launched him into stardom, and the network says it wants to stay with him.
"Duff has an offbeat, passionate personality, yet remains laid-back and approachable, which easily allows fans to connect with him," says Bob Tuschman, general manager of the channel.
As Tuschman sees it, Goldman has something that is rare in reality TV: "Duff is real — what you see is what you get. In a world of reality TV where many personalities often seem disingenuous, Duff is comfortable with who he is and what he does."
To a point. Duff plays the college-kid card again when asked where he's going to live in Los Angeles.
"I don't know yet," he says, with the move only about 45 days away. "I'll get out there with a truck full of my stuff and find out. Hopefully, Venice Beach."
But in truth, a lot more planning has been done than that remark suggests. And a support system is already in place.
At the heart of Goldman's West Coast team is his brother, Willie, a Hollywood producer who helped Duff find his way onto reality TV and remains a partner in everything from the TV projects to the bakery. You can say you're going to just jump in a truck with a bunch of your clothes and sound cavalier, if you know you can always stay at Willie's house in The Valley if that Venice Beach thing doesn't work out right away.
And Willie, who has worked on such series as the NBC medical drama "ER," sounds as if he has thought this move through.
"Yeah, it's a big move for Duff," says Willie, who is 22 months older. "Transitional, transformational? Yeah, it's all of those things. But if somebody had said six years ago that you were buying an old church in the Remington district of Baltimore and converting it into a bakery where you were going to make really crazy and expensive wedding cakes, everyone would have thought that you were insane.
"Look, people were paying us to deliver cakes to Los Angeles from Baltimore," Willie adds. "And that's just absolutely insane. It just makes more sense to have a facility on the West Coast that could service the need. There's a void here. Now when we get requests from the studios or from stars to make cakes for events or big parties, it's going to be a lot easier and cost-effective to fill them with a facility in L.A. Yeah, it's a big risk, but so was the first bakery. So why not? Sitting on our hands and waiting for life to happen to us, I don't think anyone in our orbit is that sort of person."
While Duff's away …
No one embodies the change taking place within the Charm City Cakes community more than Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey, the unofficial den mother of the operation. The co-worker whose connection to Duff extends back to their days as dorm mates at UMBC is currently away from the business. She went on maternity leave shortly after the show finished filming and gave birth to a son on Christmas Day.
"The show ending for me was uncannily timed because it was such a period end of that chapter of our lives, and then my son was born two months later. It was like, 'OK, now we start Phase 2,' " Yeskey says.
"Years ago," she adds, "Duff and I, we sort of joked about me having kids and bringing them to the bakery. And it's funny that this half-serious joke we sort of fantasized about is actually coming true."