After laughing until I was crying for the fifth time or so, I was convinced I needed to interview cake artist Don Donneruno. Don’s Facebook posts often have me in stitches and it takes quite a lot to make me laugh. By far, he is my funniest Facebook friend and I think it’s safe to say he could easily make it as a comedian if he ever decided to stop making cakes. But, that’s highly unlikely.
Don or “The Cake Don,” as he is aptly called, is very talented at his art, capturing the Graffiti Movement in his pop-culture style. His years of riding the 7 train daily from Flushing to New York City had an everlasting impact on his artistic style. Every day, his ride took him past Shea Stadium where graffiti stretched the length of his trip. His style also incorporates the designs he admired on record covers of the day, which he frequently perused in music stores. The 7 train was his canvas as a kid and he admits to contributing to its blanket of graffiti. Today, his graffiti comes in an edible form on the cakes he makes at Mario’s Bakery in Oceanside, NY.
Not only is Don a fellow Long Islander and Italian, he lives 2 houses down from where I grew up in East Northport, New York. I’ve been in his home (before he lived there) and waited for the high school bus in front of his house. Don is the father of two girls Mia, 16, and Isabella, 12, both of whom go to the same schools I went to as a kid. (I also have a daughter named Isabella). Long Island is much bigger than most realize; despite our common ground, it’s unlikely we would have met if not for the love of cake.
We met at the Starbucks on Larkfield Road, across from the Larkfield Manor where my brother got married 15 years ago and Don had his engagement party with his wife, Jennifer, back in 1994. The place had recently been completely redesigned on the exterior, resonating how many years had gone by since I’d passed it on a daily basis. Don picked Starbuck’s as a meeting place, but not because he drinks coffee; I think it was intended to give greater impact to his latest logo design.
Don shared some of his journey in the cake decorating world with me:
How long have you been decorating cakes?
For 15 years, I had worked for the shoe company Stuart Weitzman. I was commuting over 5 hours a day to New Jersey and was burned out; I couldn’t do it anymore, so I was unemployed when I was introduced to cakes. A friend of mine, Meredith Gulfman, called me up and asked for help making a cake. I had never made a cake before, but she was confident in my artistic abilities. My first cake was a King Tut cake – that was in March 2010. I got 2 customers from the party the King Tut cake was for and it just grew from there. Meredith now works with me.
How did you become known as “The Cake Don”?
People on my Facebook page starting calling me “The Cake Don.” I grew up loving The Godfather and Goodfellas, so it just made sense.
What are your favorite types of cakes to design?
Sculpted, non-traditional cakes. I love making sheet cakes because they are blank canvases. People who don’t like doing them don’t know how to take up the space. My Madonna cake was a sheet cake and it got me a lot of attention. I take pride in making sneaker cakes. I collect sneakers and try to make the sneaker cakes exactly the way they look. I had a customer order a 7 train cake and he wanted graffiti on it; he gave me creative control. I would have given it to him for free because it was like someone looking down on me and saying “it makes sense.” I made the right decision going into cakes.
Who has influenced your style?
The symbols of pop culture influenced my style: Jack Kirby, Evil Knieval, Salvador Dalli, Keith Harring, and Mohammed Ali.
What tips would you like to share with other cake decorators?
If you have a customer contact you about a cake and you’re going to go search for images to come up with a design, search for the image of the object, not a cake made to look like it. Say they want an alligator cake, type in alligator and look at real alligators so your cake looks like the real thing, not everyone else’s bad alligator cakes. You have to stand out in this business and make yourself stand out from the rest.
What would you like to share about yourself that people don’t know about you?
Still to this day, my favorite store to walk around is the toy store.
Did the hurricane negatively impact Mario’s Bakery and/or your business?
We were closed for a week with no power. The south shore of Long Island got hit so badly. We were actually one of the lucky ones; no actual damage to the building.
Don’s cakes capture the essence of New York City and an artistic genre rarely seen in the form of cake. Next time you’re on Long Island, stop in and see him at Mario’s Bakery. Admirers from afar can follow him on his Facebook page.
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