Lynchburg baker Tarsha Joyner has had very little sleep over the past two weeks.
She has spent almost all of her time covered in a layer of flour, rolling dough, icing cupcakes and glazing doughnuts to meet the demands of her new Commerce Street storefront, Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats, which opened its doors late last month.
The edible evidence of her efforts is on display in the multi-tiered cases by the register.
Deep, dark black forest cupcakes with cherry and vanilla topping. Ginger and lemon macarons filled with butter cream and lemon curd. Peanut butter-glazed yeast doughnuts and apple-pie pockets shaped like Granny Smiths. Thick yet airy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies and maple bacon caramels.
“People think I never slept before? I get negative sleep now and I’m getting too old for that,” she said with a laugh as she sat on a bench under the golden letter cutouts proclaiming “Mrs. Joy.” “It’s a lot of work [but] … it’s worth it to me to work this hard. It’s worth every ounce of hard work.”
Joyner shot to local celebrity status last November when she took home the top prize on Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” special.
“I had record sales following Food Network’s airing,’” she explained. “When the show aired, I sold out of everything. Every single thing. Even the stuff people don’t tend to buy all of, and I know I must have made 100 sets of those winning cookies.”
The show led to phone calls and requests from all over the country and, eventually, Joyner had to shut down the online order section of her website for awhile to ensure she completed her local orders.
But long before that Thanksgiving weekend episode aired, Joyner had already gained a following for her booth at the Lynchburg Community Market, where she has sold treats of all shapes and sizes since 2012.
“We knew we had to get there early,” said Troy Henson, whose family has been loyal customers of Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats for a couple of years. “Everybody knows that Mrs. Joy's cake pops are fantastic, and if you don’t get there early on a Saturday, then you’re probably not going to get anything, she sells out so quickly. Usually, if the clock said 10 o’clock and we weren’t down there yet, there was no reason to go.”
When all that baking filtered into her home life, Joyner knew it was time to start considering her own store.
“We had no space for anything,” she said. “I took my family room and made it my baking room to store all my baking supplies and do all my decorating. Now that we’re here in the shop, all of that stuff gets to come out. … We’re hoping by Christmas everything will be done and our home will be a home again.”
Though the shop took almost a year to build, all that time allowed Joyner to design the shop exactly as she always pictured it — with light bulbs encased in whisk for fixtures above the bar area as well as accent walls and a checkered floor in shades of butterscotch yellow.
Tables at the front, along with seats in the back, provide ample seating for both new customers and loyal followers to try Joyner’s variety of treats in a warm inviting space, surrounded by the scent of fresh baked goods.
While it has only been open about two full weeks, Joyner has seen what she called an overwhelming turnout, adding she never expected such strong support from the community.
Leading up to the opening, Joyner prepped for two days, baking as much as she could.
Everything, she said, was gone by noon that first morning. She had to go back and bake more. That lot disappeared by 4 p.m.
When Henson dropped by five days later, he said, she had lines going out the door.
“I think one thing that we really enjoy when we went down there is … we were able to go back and actually see her working,” said Megan Martin, who has stopped by with coworkers at least three or four times since the opening. “She engaged us. We got to put a face to the baker and see how the process is done.”
The shop will offer standard menu items with two kinds of cupcakes and cookies, one of which will always be chocolate chip, available every day along with other staples, like caramels, brownies and doughnuts.
She also will have a rotating schedule of special surprises, including whoopee pies, macarons and even hot cocoa on a stick.
During the holidays, Joyner will have her popular artisan cookies in both single and gift-basket varieties.
“I’ve been in Lynchburg my whole life and I think she offers something new,” said Martin. “She showed us those drip cakes she’s been doing and I haven’t seen those done here. She decides the flavors, what she feels like doing and it’s not cookie cutter. She was able to do hornet [shaped cookies] for Lynchburg College and a cake shaped like a sofa. You don’t see that in this area.”
With more than 1,600 square feet, Joyner has big plans for the downtown space. In addition to offering daily selections, she will continue her custom baking business out of the shop. She will also rent the lounge space, located in the back section of the store near the terrace and breakfast bar area. She also plans to offer decorating classes both online and in person.
These classes will focus on decorating artisan cookies, cupcakes and small cakes. There also are plans to host a class on painting with chocolate. The sessions will vary in age group, with some for children and others for adults, as well as in difficulty, so beginning bakers can give it a try while more seasoned designers can hone their skills.
And since everyone has asked, she does plan to compete again on the Food Network and has set her sights on even bigger shows, like as “Cupcake Wars” or her holy grail, “The Holiday Baking Championship.”
She also has plans to write a book. But it’s not a recipe book like her fans hoped — she won’t give away her secret recipes that easily. Instead, it will focus on home-based bakers and the struggles they face while trying to create a business, offering advice and suggestions to get through the hurdles. It will include a few well-received recipes, but that’s not the main focus, Joyner said.
But for now, it’s all about working out the kinks of owning her first storefront and adjusting to an even larger kitchen with potential for more opportunities before the winter rush begins later this month.
And Joyner, a big fan of the holiday season, plans to be ready.
“When people ride down the street, I want people to see, like, Macy’s,” she said with a laugh. “The storefront is going to be decorated like that. … When those Christmas decorations go up, it’s going to be amazing.”