KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Who says you don't have to work hard if you're the boss?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Who says you don't have to work hard if you're the boss?

Flashing a smile and his famous Italian charm, New Jersey baker and reality-television star Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss, worked up a sweat hugging hundreds of fans at a book signing sponsored by Rainy Day Books earlier this month at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. Valastro, star of TLC's reality series "Cake Boss," came to Kansas City as part of a nationwide tour that took him to 20 cities in 21 days.

A nationwide tour — for a cake baker?

Don't laugh. It sold out around the country. As one commentator put it, "we're in the golden age of cake television." From "Ace of Cakes" and "Ultimate Cake Off" to "Last Cake Standing" and "Wedding Cake Wars," cake programs are everywhere. In the last three years you could hardly turn the channel without landing on one of these sugar-soaked shows.

"Cake Boss" is arguably the most successful and highest rated of the bunch. Now seen in 180 countries, it has achieved near cult status, attracting throngs of giddy visitors to Hoboken, N.J., from as far away as Japan and Jakarta. The show centers on Carlo's Bakery (run by Valastro and his extended family) and the drama that ensues as they make their spectacular special-order cakes.

How much of a phenomenon is Buddy Valastro? His official "Cake Boss" Facebook page has 3.2 million "likes."

On his page, fans communicate with Valastro like they would a close friend. They share stories from their lives, leave compliments or tell him they're coming to visit. They even leave links for YouTube videos, where they tell him how much they love his show, or make their pitches for him to make them — or someone they know — one of his larger-than-life custom cakes.

"Hi Buddy," wrote one fan. "I am from Hawaii and planning a trip to visit your store. Do you have anything for tourists like us to watch how the beautiful cakes are made? You are all so creative. It is always a WOW whenever I watch your show."

But not everyone has positive comments. Some, like Rosemary Harding, leave sharply worded constructive criticism.

"Enjoy the show except all your screaming," she said. "If I worked for you and you yelled at me the way you do the crew, I would walk out. There is no excuse for how you treat the other bakers. You should learn some manners and take a course in how to talk to others."

But most of the comments are as sweet as one of the Cake Boss' creations. Valastro is as popular with chefs as he is with home bakers.

Carey Iennaccaro, owner of Sprinkled With Sugar, a custom-cake business in Olathe, appreciates what the show has done for her industry.

"I definitely think Buddy has been a big influence on the cake world with his show and his uniqueness," she said. "There are amazingly great people in the cake world who were doing this before Buddy. But Buddy's show has brought all these talented cake artists into the spotlight to where people can actually see and appreciate all that we do."

In the show, Valastro is depicted in many ways, including devoted family man and demanding taskmaster who is not above raising his voice or lowering the boom when necessary.

But onstage in Kansas City he was a big softie.

"It's an honor to meet you," said a female fan with a quavering voice, who quickly apologized. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm nervous."

"Aww, what are you nervous for?" Valastro said. "Don't be nervous. I love you guys. You know that. Just a pleasure being here in Kansas City."

A father of four, Valastro kissed babies and clowned around with kids. He shook hands, gave high-fives, posed for pictures, laughed at jokes and signed books, forearms, cake pans and rolling pins. Not once did he seem tired or put off by the huge line. These were his fans. And there was nothing he wouldn't do for them.

Three hours later, when the last fan walked away, he wasn't done. With a show to do later that night at the Midland theater, where he would talk about his life, do demonstrations and take questions from the audience, he was ushered into a back room filled with tables piled high with his new book, "Baking With the Cake Boss" ($30, Free Press). His job: sign every last of them.

He didn't know he'd be asked to sign so many books. No problem. He grabbed a marker and attacked them like a machine. Hours later, he finished signing the last of 500 books, having given each one a stylish and legible autograph.

Valastro is no stranger to hard work. He's been working in the family business since he was 11. After his father died, the 34-year-old Valastro guided Carlo's Bakery to new heights as the breakout star of the highly rated "Cake Boss," now in its fourth season.

Sherry Kirkpatrick of Olathe, Kan., who came to see him on her 53rd birthday, said it's easy to understand why people like this boss so much.

"He's got a great personality, his whole family works for him, and they're all Italian so they all talk 90 to nothin'," she said. "It's about family, it's about good food, it's about being creative. It's just a fun, fun show to watch."

And of course she's stunned by his artistry.

"His cakes are incredible," she said. "I saw him do a cake that was the size of my living room for Barnum and Bailey's circus. It had a ring of fire, they had a cannon and molded chocolate people that they shot through the ring of fire."

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Missy Blanton drove an hour and a half from Bethany, Mo., to see Valastro. She and her friend, Aimee Bennett, even pulled their daughters from school. They all wore brown T-shirts decorated with cupcakes that read "I (heart) Buddy."

The show has inspired the women's pre teen daughters to want to open their own cupcake store when they grow up.

"These two are addicted," Bennett said. "They TiVo it constantly and we watch it over and over and over. They just can't get enough."

Mary Caitlin Brauner, 16, feels the same way.

"My family on my dad's side is Italian, so it reminds me a lot of my dad's family," she said. "He's always talkin', talkin', talkin'. He's just a crack-up to watch."

Jasper Mirabile Jr., chef and owner of Jasper's Restaurant in Kansas City, likes the show — and the man behind it — too.

"Just to see him all together with the family and going to Italy together was one of the best shows ever," he said."The man is a true family man. And knowing him like I do, it's not just a front. This is how he really is."

Valastro has earned Mirabile's respect with both his skill and his work ethic.

"I think his father died when he was only 17, and everything came down on him," Mirabile said. "You can imagine what he must have gone through. He had some big shoes to fill. Not only did he fill them, he took his father's bakery to a whole other level. And success has not gone to his head. This man is as genuine as can be."