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Richmond sweet potato pie maker turning a family tradition into budding national business: 'It's literally an entrepreneur's dream'
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Richmond sweet potato pie maker turning a family tradition into budding national business: 'It's literally an entrepreneur's dream'

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Joyebells celebrates 2 years in rapidly expanding business

For decades, Joye B. Moore made a couple dozen sweet potato pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas to give as gifts to family and friends.

But after losing her job two years ago, Moore decided to go into pie-making business using the recipe that was handed down over the years from her great-great-great-grandmother, who was the last woman in her family born into slavery.

She sold some of her Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies to a handful of restaurants and markets in the Richmond area back then. She even appeared on a live pie cook-off on NBC’s “Today” show.

Now, her budding family-run business is booming.

In the span of two years, her company has gone from making about 100 to 200 pies a month to making about 1,800-plus pies monthly, mostly to stock area Food Lion stores. She’s generated more than $100,000 in sales since she began selling pies to Food Lion in April.

But Moore has even bigger plans underway that eventually could lead to her Joyebells Sweet Potato Pies having a national reach.

Her business recently hired a co-packer — or a food contract manufacturer — that will greatly expand the pie-making capacity to about 400,000 pies a month.

She’s now selling her pies to Sam’s Club stores in five states and hopes to expand that nationally, possibly next year.

But there’s more. Moore expects to start selling to additional Food Lion stores in Virginia next year and eventually across the country. She might appear on home shopping channel HSN. A local investor has taken an equity stake in her startup business. She’s in talks with a retailer about carrying her new line of ready-to-heat prepared side dishes. And the business started paying her and family members a salary.

“It is a dream that any entrepreneur would want to have for themselves — you know, a successful launch to grow beyond their wildest dreams type thing. It’s literally an entrepreneur’s dream. But it has been a lot of work,” Moore said.

“It still all feels surreal to me. It is the most eerie thing. I am scared, excited and nervous while at the same time learning in real time how to deal with stress and being overwhelmed,” she said. “But then I have to be focused to see the blessings are still happening. I am just amazed. All of this happening just blows my mind.

“I’m blessed, blessed, blessed,” she said. “God’s plan so far has been so much bigger and widespread than anything I ever had written down on paper.”

Milestones

Here are some of the milestones that her business has achieved in the past couple of months:

Sam’s Club:

  • Moore initially started in mid-November supplying more than 40 Sam’s Club warehouse club stores in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and part of North Carolina.

In early December, 12 stores in New York will be added, as well as stores in other states. About 200 Sam’s Club stores should be selling her pies by Christmastime, which Moore said begins the national rollout.

Her goal is to be in all 600 Sam’s Club locations by the fourth quarter of 2022.

She can’t say how many pies she expects to be shipping monthly to Sam’s Club, except to say it is a “significant” number.

“There’s no way we could have scaled to partner with a chain that size nationwide without a co-packer,” Moore said. “Our buyer at Sam’s Club helped us facilitate [the co-packer]. That’s how much they wanted us to be in the Sam’s Club stores. They believe that we can be to Sam’s Club what Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pies is to Walmart.”

Food Lion:

  • Moore’s pies have been sold in more than 40 area Food Lion stores since April.

“I think they’ve grown nicely and they’re steady across the board,” she said.

Moore’s pies should start becoming available at other Food Lion stores across Virginia beginning in the first quarter.

She expects to be in all 240-plus Food Lion stores in Virginia by next year’s fourth quarter, with the hope to eventually be in all of the chain’s 1,100-plus stores in 2023.

Co-packer:

  • The co-packer in Tennessee has greatly expanded the capacity of pie production to about 400,000 pies a month.

Moore also will use Hatch Kitchen RVA’s new co-packing operations to produce high volumes of her sweet potato pie mix next year. Hatch Kitchen is a business incubator for startup companies in the food industry that operates in the Clopton Siteworks in South Richmond.

Moore and her family will take the mix to continue making and baking the pies at Hatch, packaging them there and delivering them to Food Lion stores and other Richmond-area customers.

Investor:

  • An unnamed local investor has infused capital into Moore’s business.

The investor took an undisclosed equity stake in the business, which Moore says values her company at $2 million.

Moore decided to take on the local investor instead of accepting an appearance on the popular ABC television show “Shark Tank,” where she would have pitched her business to try to land a deal with one of the big-time investors. She said she declined an appearance on the TV show because she didn’t want to give up more than 10% equity.

“This one investor has impacted the business,” she said. The investor “just didn’t give us money and say ‘I want some reports and I want my money back.’ But this investor is offering their wisdom and guidance and helped us to secure a line of credit, which helps us to build relationships with banks so that when we are in position, we can secure funding from those traditional sources.”

HSN:

  • Moore participated in home shopping channels QVC and HSN’s The Big Find product search competition in which the networks try to discover entrepreneurs with the next big brand or unique product.

She’s in talks with HSN about possibly appearing on the network next year to sell her pies to a national television audience.

Side dishes:

  • Moore is considering branching out into a line of ready-to-heat prepared side dishes.

Her Joyebells Countrysides could include macaroni and cheese, potato salad, yams, kale and collard greens.

Moore had thought that part of the business would start in 2024, but she’s in initial talks with an unnamed retailer about supplying her side dishes to those stores next year.

Salary:

  • Moore’s business started paying her and her family members for the first time in October.

“Everyone has worked tirelessly for free — or volunteered for free, I think is the correct word,” Moore said. “It’s definitely been a whole-family effort.”

Most of Moore’s family has been living in her and her husband’s two-bedroom apartment in Richmond for the past two years to save on expenses while helping to grow the business.

Besides Moore, the company’s president and CEO, her other family members working in the business are: her husband, Eric, who is the chief operating officer; son Adonis, the company’s chief brand strategist as well as a production assistant to help bake the pies; son Lynden, a production associate; daughter Tylor, also a production assistant; and Joye Moore’s sister Cassandra Wheeler, who works as a production supervisor.

Except for Moore’s oldest son Adonis, the rest of the family, including two grandchildren, have moved in with her and her husband.

“We’ve all been living together in my two-bedroom apartment so that they wouldn’t have overhead, rent, utilities. We paid off my sister’s car. We are just taking care of everybody so no one has an overhead because they’ve been working for me for two years for free just so that we can grow,” Moore said.

“I’m super proud of my family for the way we have banded together and believing in the same goal of changing the historical trajectory of our family,” she said.

Sales and profitability:

  • Moore expects the business to generate more than $300,000 in revenue this year, up from $53,000 last year.

Her business, she said, is getting close to breaking even.

“We haven’t made a profit this year, but we are close,” she said. “We definitely are expecting to see a profit at the end of year in 2022.”

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