Passed down through six generations, Joye B. Moore's family recipe for sweet potato pie has been delighting friends, relatives, and anyone else lucky enough to try it for decades.
"It tastes like home and it evokes memories of home," Moore told The Week. "It's one of those love language foods that actually transports you back to a time when you were young."
The recipe was created by her great-great-great grandmother, and was never written down — the ingredients, measurements, and instructions were repeated orally and memorized in the kitchen. "That was our happy place," Moore said. "No matter what else was going on, the kitchen was our happy place."
For years, Moore spent every November making dozens of sweet potato pies for friends and family to bring to parties or give as gifts, and they encouraged her to start selling them. Moore would always reply, "One day." That day came in 2019, when she lost her job at a nonprofit. "I remember crying for about 10 minutes, and then thinking, 'So what are we going to do next?'" Moore said. "I had this incredible feeling and remember thinking, 'You've been set free.'"
That was the moment JOYEBELLS Sweet Potato Pies was born. Moore got to work, recruiting her family to help her make tarts for a local restaurant called the Dairy Bar. When that was a success, she focused on pies. During the pandemic, JOYEBELLS partnered with the grocery store chain Food Lion through its Supplier Diversity initiative, and today, her pies can be found on the shelves of Food Lion's 1,100 stores, as well as at Sam's Club and QVC.
"The Food Lion I shop at is less than two minutes from my house, and every time I go in I have to make sure that I walk through the deli — it doesn't matter what I'm shopping for — and look just to make sure the pies are really there," Moore said. "It's surreal."
It's been hard work, but Moore knows perseverance — as a teenager, she was homeless after escaping an abusive environment, but continued to go to school every day and graduated from high school on time. She was recently recognized as one of Inc.'s 2022 Top 100 Female Founders, and said she couldn't have done it without the support of the Richmond community, the mentors she's met at Food Lion, and her husband, children, and grandchildren.
"I'm proud of my family, my daughter and my sons are part of this business, and my grandson is in the kitchen putting on the labels," Moore said. "They volunteered for free, believing me when I said, 'Hey, this is going to work.' They believed in me and committed, and we are here today because the family came together with one mission and one purpose."