RACHEL SMITH The (Lynchburg) News & Advance
LYNCHBURG — Tarsha Joyner’s newly opened bakery shop was a sham.
However, Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats has been in business for 10 years now, has a bright yellow storefront at 1008 Commerce St. and Joyner has appeared on the Food Network channel several times.
“But the amazing thing is that this year I learned how to bake,” Joyner said. “My children will tell you that I have never made them birthday cakes. It used to be Sam’s Club.”
The bakery business was almost a coincidence.
Ten years ago, Joyner was a University of Lynchburg student working on her graphic design degree and was tasked with starting a business for which she could design packaging and brand the product from start to finish.
To create something family-friendly, she started a fake bakery and learned how to bake treats from YouTube and Google to put in the packaging she designed.
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She got an appearance at the Lynchburg Community Market, selling some shortbread and other goodies in the box.
“In the beginning it was just about doing something for the packaging,” she said. “I made shortbread and people loved it. And I’m shocked because the shortbread I make now isn’t like the shortbread I used to make.”
With that, Mrs. Joy was born and she decided to make the bakery a reality.
“Who would have thought that this would become something real? I just started this bogus business and then learned how to bake,” she said.
Joyner said she’s proud to represent Lynchburg on the Food Network channel over the years, but her first appearance was just luck of the draw.
In 2015, she won the Food Network Christmas Cookie Challenge along with $10,000 to help build her storefront, which she did the following year.
“I’d probably only decorated cookies a couple of times going on the show,” she said. “I only had six recipes and I was like, ‘God, if I need more than that I don’t know what I’m going to do because that’s all I have,’ and I used all six and won.”
As the host introduced the contestants, Joyner said that there were established bakers, a former NFL player, and a Martha Stewart cookie decorator, and Joyner wondered why she was even on the show.
“I’m a software support analyst and I work in the market on Saturdays,” she recalled. “I was scared for about five seconds, and then I remembered that up to that point I had been praying that I would be here when it was meant to be for me. So I got over it real quick.”
In 2017, she returned to battle bakers at the network’s “Dessert Games,” and in 2019, Joyner competed on Food Network’s “Haunted Gingerbread Showdown.”
In 2021, she was featured in Project Bakeover, where her shop was completely transformed.
Despite these accolades, Joyner doesn’t see himself as successful—yet.
“It’s hard to find the ingredients, it’s hard to get capital to pay for these things because prices have doubled since we started,” she said. “And now we have to pay more for minimum wage and that’s why everything is going up.”
Always on the lookout for new clients, Joyner created a video on the social networking app TikTok last year where she posts baking tips and flops. But she never shares recipes.
“I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing; I only do myself. I don’t make much music in the videos. I don’t dance much because it’s not my jam and I don’t share my recipes. I don’t do this because I worked really hard for my recipes,” she said. “I don’t feel like it should take me a decade to come up with this stuff and then just give it away.”
Last fall, she launched a new website that ships her baked goods across the country, which has helped bring in three to four times what she makes from walking in the store.
“You have to start getting out of your comfort zone when that’s how things have been going all along, and then there’s this hiccup called a pandemic that made you think, ‘Okay, so we have to do something different now because the same old ways it’s ‘I won’t work anymore,'” she said.
Joyner is her own worst critic.
“I feel like if all my bills are paid and I’m out of debt and I’m getting a regular paycheck, then I’m a success,” she said. “I can imagine that happening next year.”
LoisAnn Pfister, a loyal customer and friend, recalled that Joyner had been in business for a decade: “I’ve been eating her fudges for 10 years; don’t remember me!”
Pfister said her relationship with Joyner began when Joyner was formed in the market.
“I’m a caramel fan, so once I started buying these I sold myself for life,” she said.
The business relationship soon turned into friendship, and Pfister offered some advice to Joyner when she launched her business in 2016.
Joyner also made all of the cupcakes and cake for Pfister’s daughter’s wedding.
“She continues to grow and she’s exploring and seeing what else is out there and what else she can do to expand her product line,” Pfister said. “She’s great at experimenting and trying new things and she’s such a talented artist. I have a feeling that in some ways she has even more untapped potential and how she can turn that into profitability. She’s just, she’s really, really talented.”
Joyner said she worked for too many years for people who treated her like she was expendable.
“I know how that feels, and I know that when they come to work, I let them know how important they are,” she said. “And if it ever gets to the point where they don’t like being here anymore and it’s time for them to go, I don’t hate their guts. This is not a landing pad; it’s more of a stepping stone. They should learn how to be a good employee and find another job that can pay them what they need to make a living.”
When Ke’vona Covington, 19, started working at Mrs. Joy’s nearly two years ago, she knew nothing about baking, but over time she’s learned and found the job to be the best she’s ever had.
Covington, a first-generation college student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Joyner has been a big help in guiding her outside of work.
“It was incredible,” she said. “[Joyner] is an amazing person. She’s like a second mom to me. She helped me with college applications and educated me on what to do while I was there.”
When Covington comes to work, it doesn’t feel like a job, she said.
“It feels like I’m just here with my family and I love the setting and I love that it’s black owned,” she said. “That inspires me a bit.”
All this makes Joyner a sense of achievement.
“It’s important to me to instill a good work ethic in my employees and when they leave they let me know it’s been the best job they’ve ever had and they’re looking forward to the future because they know how it is.” is to have a good boss and a good employee, that’s important to me, and if that’s successful then i feel like a success,” she said.