Joye B. Moore hits the area’s sweet spot with Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies

George Copeland Jr. | 5/20/2021, 6 p.m.
Joye B. Moore is a sixth-generation baker whose sweet potato pies based on an old family recipe may be making …
Joye B. Moore shows off one of her Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies at her production facility at Hatch Kitchen RVA in South Side. Working behind her are her sister, left, Cassandra Wheeler, director of production, and Kanesha Johnson, lead production team member. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Joye B. Moore is a sixth-generation baker whose sweet potato pies based on an old family recipe may be making their way into countless homes throughout Metro Richmond.

Roughly 18 months after launching her dessert business in 2019, Ms. Moore’s Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies is expanding from five independent grocery locations to 45 Food Lion stores in the Richmond area.

“It’s just been awesome,” Ms. Moore said of the experience.

It’s a new path for Ms. Moore, a native of South Dallas who was homeless from age 14 to 17 and grew up to build a stable family, become an author, mental health advocate and now successful businesswoman.

Living and working in Richmond for the last 32 years, Ms. Moore was laid off during a restructuring at the nonprofit where she worked. Leaving with severance pay and a lot more free time, she turned her attention to leveraging her baking skills passed down through her family, and a sweet potato pie recipe passed down from her third great-grandmother, into a business of her own.

Starting such a business had been a dream of Ms. Moore’s for more than 20 years, but one she expected to pursue after retirement.

However, leaving the nonprofit and needing flexibility as a primary caregiver for an adult son with mental health challenges inspired Ms. Moore to follow her long-held dream.

“I didn’t want to go and start all over to prove my worth,” Ms. Moore said. “Once I lost my position, that was just the passion and the fuel that I needed to go ahead and take a chance on myself.”

As of April 30, her Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies will be more widely available.

Previously, Ms. Moore said she baked anywhere from 60 to 100 pies annually as requested gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But since launching Joyebells, she has scaled up her efforts significantly, with 1,000 pies delivered in a two-and-a-half week span for a single store last year.

Her business started with selling pie slices at The Dairy Bar Diner in September 2019 to gauge interest before formally launching Joye- bells in The Market @ 25th to what she called an “amazing” response a month later.

Strong community support has been key to Joyebells’ success, Ms. Moore said. It also led to an invitation to appear on NBC’s “TODAY” for the show’s annual Holiday Pie-Off featuring creative and delicious homemade pies. That, in turn, led to even more buzz, even stronger sales and the expansion of Joyebells into five locations throughout the area.

When COVID-19 hit, all of her distribution locations except for The Market @ 25th were shut down under state pandemic restrictions. Ms. Moore said that was something of a gift, as it forced her to scale down her products to the signature sweet potato pie and refocus her priorities and vision for Joyebells’ future success.

“I was able to realize that we were manufacturers, that I was not a baker ... and I wholesale for retail,” Ms. Moore said. “I would have never gotten to that conclusion, especially not as soon as I did, if we had not been forced to stop and reassess. And once we figured that out, it’s like we found our sweet spot.”

She said Food Lion officials first contacted her in March 2020 before the pandemic really struck Virginia.

Ms. Moore and her team of five family members and one intern currently work tirelessly through weekends and holidays to meet contracts. Family members provide key roles—from her husband, as chief operating officer, handling logistics, distribution and vendor management to her sister, also a sixth-generation baker, working as director of production.

Ms. Moore also said she has received helpful advice from other similar local businesses, funding and aid from organizations such as the Metropolitan Business League, and professional expertise Ms. Moore gained through her years working in the nonprofit sector.

“I’m still not sure how it’s getting done, but it’s getting done,” Ms. Moore said with a laugh. “I’m just fortunate enough and blessed to have had enough experiences and jobs that have prepared us for this.”

While Food Lion is the first major partner Joyebells has found so far, Ms. Moore said it’s far from the last. Other partnerships are in the works, she said, with plans to reach the rest of the state in 2022.

Ms. Moore said she also is looking to expand the number of employees, as well as the company’s resource and material suppliers. She also is looking at expanding the product line into peach cobbler, gluten-free and vegan pie options.

Ms. Moore hopes her path and progress can encourage other entrepreneurs considering going out on their own.

“No matter what things look like or how they feel, keep moving,” Ms. Moore said. “Just do it and the rest will catch up, because I promise you, that’s what I did.”