Chad Fitzgerald owns Cake Guys, a cakery with locations in both Dallas and Duncanville. He's also a constant on season two of TLC's Next Great Baker, which premiered Monday night. (Fitzgerald was part of the night's winning team). The next day, we got with Chad and talked to him about the show's premier, how he got started baking, how he overcame his battle with low self-esteem and, of course, his alter-ego Stacey Holiday.
How do you feel the premiere of Next Great Baker went? I loved the show. You never know how reality shows are going to characterize you. It's all real, we don't see or have any info whatsoever, we sign over all those rights. So it's really scary anticipating what it's going to be like.
So, how did you get started baking? Whenever I was a little kid I would hang out at my grandmother's house after school. ... I got all my baking skills from her. She did other stuff, ceramics and quilting and crocheting, and so I learned all that stuff from grandma. I was from a single-parent home and we had no babysitter, so she babysat me after school for elementary and junior high.
What were some of your earliest culinary creations? My very first wedding cake was when I was a senior in high school. It was my brother's wedding cake, and it was horrible (laughs).
What made it so horrible? I remember [the bride] wanted an off-white cake, like an ivory cake because it was her second marriage, and it turned out like a light brown.
Was she upset? No, it was free, and back then people didn't care. It wasn't a big deal. She was just happy to have a cake. But now, that wouldn't fly at all, but back then, eh. And it had sugar icing roses on it, kinda like grocery store roses. That's the way that cake was. It was atrocious, it was really bad. The colors were horrible. But I didn't know it was horrible back then.
Were you proud of it at the time? Yeah, I was like, "Oh my gosh." And you know, I didn't have a bakery and I just baked out of my mom's kitchen and everyone was really positive [about the cake] and it had to travel 60 miles and it made it, and everything worked out good.
Who did you test your earliest creations on when you first started baking? I went to chef school right out of high school, and I was at Oklahoma State University, and I absolutely hated it. It wasn't for me. So, I came back home and I enrolled in West Texas A&M University, and started the education program there. I started making cakes to pay for my stuff. I baked and cooked out of our house, and I got better and better and then I graduated from college and moved to Midland on my own. I was in Midland for 10 years, I had a great time there, and stopped doing cakes once I got financially set, and that's when my crazy other side was born out of boredom.
Can you tell me a little about that side? It was in 1993 I guess. I was teaching junior high and all my friends would go out to clubs and stuff. And they had something called "Talent Night" for guys who do drag and my friends were like, "You gotta do it, you have a great personality," and so I was like, "OK, I'll do it." I did it and I won. It was fun, a lot, a lot of fun, plus I got a lot of attention.
Drag came along in my life when I kind of had real self-esteem issues, I didn't like my weight, I was going bald, I looked ridiculous, I just hated everything about how I looked. And I've never been one to do drugs -- yeah, I have cocktails and drink beer -- but the drug route wasn't for me, and that's where a lot of people turn when they have self-esteem issues. But for me, drag was like my drug. I would get in drag and the next thing you know, complete strangers were telling me how beautiful I am. It was real weird to me because I was in the same body, so I was still big, the difference was I had makeup and hair. I became a little star and my friends would say that Chad's personality was shining through [his drag persona] Stacey. I just took everything by storm. And the next thing you know, in 1996 I won miss Texas US of A at Large and then I went to Miss US of A at Large that year and I won [the title] out of everybody in the country.
Then what happened? I was booked all over the country and I would teach during the week and then fly out Friday night and fly back Monday morning, and teach again. I was meeting all these people around the country, it was an amazing time in my life. The cool thing was, I was getting paid to do this, I was getting paid to go out to clubs. There wasn't a lot of money, but it was enough. All the airfares were paid for, and all the hotels, all the limos, everywhere I went everything was paid for. And there was a little bit of pay on the side. And again, complete strangers telling me I'm beautiful. So, it was about, probably 1998 when I shaved off all my hair, and when I did that, something about me just changed. Me shaving off my hair was a huge turning point in my life because I was so self-conscious of going bald and by me shaving it off it was like I was eliminating all that self-consciousness. Now Chad was getting more self-esteem.
You know all the stories you hear about the things you shouldn't do [while in drag], we were doing them. I would call my daughters -- not my real daughters, my drag daughters -- and we would go out to strip clubs all in drag. And I never had a problem with guys, with fights or with being threatened. I guess 'cause I was a big girl -- a big boy. And then I realized that play time was over. I was about to be 33, and it was time to grow up. A lot of times, the only way to change your life is to leave everything you know and friends behind and start over. And leave your bad choice and bad decisions. And I was escaping all this mess healthy. We were in the times when AIDS was everywhere, and there wasn't a lot of medicine at that time, every AIDS test was scary as hell. So, I just decided that in 2001 I was done, I needed to move, I needed to get away, and I wanted to go to Dallas.
So, I got a job in Duncanville and I made the choice to leave Stacey behind.
Is all that why you chose Oak Lawn -- aka the "Gayborhood" -- as the location of your Dallas Bakery? No, it's exactly the opposite. I'm not a big gay-pride celebratory, I'm not for gay marriage. I'm not against it though, if they want to do it, they should do it, it's just not for me. I'm not even sure if I were straight I'd get married.
I really think [the Dallas location] was meant to be; we lucked into it. I was delivering a cake to a steakhouse in Oak Lawn and we drove by and I saw a sign out front [of the space] that said "for lease." It was a small place and I said, "Oh, a location in downtown Dallas would be great." My very first thing was it's far enough past Cedar Springs, 'cause I don't want this to be a "gay business." Of course I'm gay (and this is what I tell everybody, especially when I was a teacher). I'm a baker who a small part of me is gay, I'm not a gay person who's a baker. And so many times gay people get so wrapped up in, "Oh, I'm gay, I'm gay." Straight people don't walk around proclaiming they're straight, it's a non-issue and I want me being gay to be a non-issue.
How did you get hooked up with TLC? In late May a casting producer called and was like, "I've been to your website, is there anybody interested from your bakery to try out for the TV show Next Great Baker?" and I said, "Yeah, me and my partner Edward!" And he was like, "We need to have this application in tonight." So, I got off the phone and I got the application and for the first time ever -- we've applied for a lot of shows -- I said, "Screw it! I'm going to put down everything," and that included drag. So I put down everything about Stacey, I put down everything about my life that I could think about. I was totally up front, honest, nothing held back. I included "LOL" and "LMFAO," I just put it out there. I submitted it and within five minutes she called me back. And she said "Oh my God, Chad, this is the best application I've read and we've had over 2000 submitted." ... About two weeks later they called and said, "You're one of the 36, we love you, we're going to fly you down for an interview."
On the way home [from the interview] I was really sad I was thinking, "Gosh, if I don't get this now, at this point, I'm going to be really upset," and so they didn't call, didn't call, didn't call and finally, it was a Monday, I don't know if it was July 31 or August 2, one of those, they call and say, "Congratulations, you're on the show!"
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How did you feel about that? Oh my God, I was just like a ball of emotions. It was just like so, so amazing. And everything just like flashed before me and they said, "You can't tell anyone yet, you can tell your mom and you can tell your partner, but don't tell any of your employees and no media whatsoever," and I'm over there crying and all my staff's looking at me like, "You got on the show!" and I'm like "Shut up, Shut up." And then from there we just went and started shooting, it was amazing.
What was it like being on the show with Tony Frys from Fort Worth, did you guys bond over being from the metroplex? Gosh, I don't even know how to say this. Tony, and you can probably tell on the show, he's a real different kind of guy. And me and Tony did bond, we were actually on the same plane on the way to New York for the show. He sat in front of me. And I had already done research and found out he was on the show, so I knew who he was. I was real wary of him 'cause I'm a super competitive person, he's a sculptor, he's very gifted in sculpting. But I didn't know his skills with baking and I didn't know his skills with decorating. And it's very different. Generally you're a sculptor and you're not a baker and you're not a decorator. That's usually how it works. But I didn't know if Tony was going to be all that, and if he was, I thought, "Oh God, he'll win the show."
When we got off the plane I said "Hey, are you Tony?" and he goes "Yeah, how do you know?" and I said "I'm Chad I'm on the Next Great Baker and you are too, right?" and he goes "How do you know that?" and I said "I did some research and I saw your pictures, so I knew who you were, you have amazing cakes." He goes, "Where are you located?" and I said, "Duncanville," he goes, "Oh, yeah I've heard of y'all," so I say "Where is your bakery?" and he's like "Oh, we don't have a bakery. ... I haven't done a cake in five years." And I was like, "What, you don't bake?" and he goes "No, I hate baking, I haven't baked in I don't know how long. ... I'm into sculpting and production." So as much as I love Tony, he was the first person I marked off the list of who I have to worry about.
Watch Chad on Next Great Baker at 8 p.m. Mondays on TLC.