Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

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Sweet Joy’s Cakes and Desserts family bakery grows from foundations built throughout years

Sweet Joy’s sweet history

Sweet Joy’s Cakes and Desserts’ owner Naomi Joy Brazeil begins each week with 20 cake orders with each call, each online order, each in-person visit adding to that list. Working with a team of five, they follow through with their practiced motions of prepping, creating and delivering the cake. In one week, seven people may make 50 cakes. However, this small business began from even smaller beginnings. 

Naomi Joy Brazeil was 16 years old when she began her business journey in 2016. Learning how to knit and crochet from her mother and homeschool teacher Michelle Brazeil, she sold handmade scarves in the Valley Mall and created a business called ‘Brazzels’. They hadn’t expected this small business to be the thread that inspires Sweet Joys. 

“She did great doing that. The scarves were absolutely beautiful. They invited us, they wanted us to come to one of the bridal shows. And I’m like, ‘Nobody wants a hat and scarf at a bridal show, so Naomi was like, ‘Mom, why don’t we do wedding cakes’,” Michelle Brazeil said.  

Since the start of Sweet Joys, Naomi Joy Brazeil’s parents supported and inspired her to go after anything she aspired to do. 

“From the time I was 14 up until when I was 16, I just started kind of playing around with cakes, baking for my dad. He liked to decorate, so growing up watching him decorate and getting little tips and tricks from him, I thought it was really fun, really cool. I would practice and do things on my own and do things for people in our church, like do all the birthday cakes and stuff. Once I started doing that, my mom really got behind me, like, ‘You can make this business. You can actually really do good with this’,” Naomi Joy said. 

Although they never made a cake for the bride and groom, it sparked a drive in Naomi Joy Brazeil. 

“That year, considering it, she’s just started studying some of the best bakers. I mean, digital is great. Some of the great people in YouTube and things like that. She just really, really became very, very good at doing it, and everyone that we knew got a cake for free bankers or bankers or hairdressers, anybody that we had a relationship with, got free cakes for a year,” Michelle Brazeil said. 

A year later in Honduras, Sweet Joys made their first commission. Only at 17 years old, Naomi Joy Brazeil and her mother made enough sheet cakes for a wedding of over 300 people. 

“We knew the young lady. She’d come out to the States, and it just worked out great. That was December of 2016. 2017, we had the bridal show and we took our first orders and it started from there and it just has not stopped,” Michelle Brazeil said. “You get wedding cake orders and stuff like that is so much fun.”

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Naomi Joy Brazeil and Michelle Brazeil expanded Sweet Joy’s to a smaller building on their property near their house because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After they moved to a store, Michelle Brazeil renovated the building to become a small school. (Jiayi Li)

Naomi Joy Brazeil started the business in her parent’s house. 

“It was fine. The tight spaces and us kind of working on top of each other, and then, it’s dinner time and my dad’s like, we’re going to eat and we’ve got cakes all over the place. We’re like, ‘Don’t look over here, order pizza or something’. It was a lot, but it was really interesting. Those humble beginnings helped us to really build our bond in working together, my mom and I, and learning how we communicated things as far as a business aspect versus mother-daughter,” Naomi Joy Brazeil said. 

Sweet Joys received another order after returning to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Although this was their second order, it was Naomi Joy Brazeil’s first order in Harrisonburg, her first tiered cake order and her first delivery order. On the day of, Naomi Joy Brazeil prepared the cake for the drive to the wedding venue with her father. A few hours later and minutes from the venue, the cake starts sinking. There weren’t enough supports inside the cake. 

“We scour everywhere, any bakeries, Martin’s, find cakes that we can serve in. We get back and we were able to, I think, save two of the layers…I was ready to quit, but the bride was so chill. She never knew because she did get her slice of cake, but we were like, ‘You get cake free forever’,” Michelle Brazeil said. “She’s still a client of ours to this day. That was 2017, and I think every year, she’s coming, she’s getting cake for her sister, different stuff.”

Apply to culinary school. Apply for a job. In 2018, Naomi Joy Brazeil applied herself to whatever she could to improve her skills. She worked at Montpelier Restaurant & Bar for the next year and a half as a baker. 

After quitting her job at Montpelier, Naomi Joy Brazeil began working on Sweet Joys full-time. 

“We put everything in her name, got her licenses and got this place. We just got busy,” Michelle Brazeil said. “The city, they were great. They were excited about a bakery because when we did our research on starting one. They used to have something called Sunshine Bakery in Harrisonburg, but they had closed down years ago. Heritage is downtown, but they weren’t doing what we were doing. We had some home bakers but nobody was really doing what we were doing, so we knew we could probably fit in really well.”

In Sept. 2021, Naomi Joy Brazeil signed the lease for a store at 1645 Reservoir St Ste 135. At the entrance, a customer can find photos of Sweet Joys’ designs and a script writing, ‘Delicious! Custom Designs!’

“We’ve been able to get this brick and mortar spot. We’re in a good location. We’re kind of between the high school, college and a really good shopping area in the community,” Naomi Joy Brazeil said. “ Now that we do have like an actual location. It’s kind of hard to shut it down, but we do try to still keep up at least one out-of-country travel a year.”

Naomi Joy Brazeil and Michelle Brazeil began Sweet Joys as a mother-daughter duo. While still together, the Brazeil family expanded its small business to include employees, hundreds of customers and new designs. 

 “The people that we hire, there’ll be artists, so I’m like, ‘Hey, if you have your own creativity, definitely use that as well too’. You definitely play off of each other,” Naomi Joy Brazeil said. “You have to step away from it and break it down, so the little things in real life is not as much as it seems. Competence has had to grow constantly, like, I’ll tell my mom, ‘I don’t even know how I got here. This is crazy’.”

Under the fondant

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement reached a high point. Born only two years before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Michelle Brazeil navigated through schools permeated with the civil rights movement. 

“One thing I always had to remember was that was a time and that’s not this time. I can’t look at every person that’s not my race and say, ‘You did this to me’, which a lot of times, that fosters that type of feeling. You want something that’s like, ‘Oh my God, look what they did’, but it’s not me personally. That was a time that they went through to help progress things along, but you can’t harbor hate in your heart against people like that,” Michelle Brazeil said. “Our kids have friends all intermingle and probably non-African Americans. They do know their heritage, but they won’t blame or feel that we deserve something just because of the color of our skin.”

American television miniseries ‘Roots’ was released while Michelle Brazeil was in high school. ‘Roots’ followed the fictional story of Kunte Kinte, who was sold into the slave trade. 

“My mom would not let me watch it. I’m like, ‘Why?’, so I snuck and watch it anyway. I was in high school and that movie created such discord in our school. Blacks were on the top, whites from the bottom. Everybody was up in arms and upset about this movie that it showed, how the slaves were being treated,” Michelle Brazeil said. 

Michelle Brazeil teaches her children to avoid fostering hatred against other people. 

“They’ve always been integrated around everybody, every culture, every race. The church that we belong to, we have churches in the Philippines, churches, churches in Hawaii, churches everywhere,” Michelle Brazeil said. “We don’t teach our kids you’re African American, so you have to be this way. My generation, growing up in the 60s, my best friends were Caucasian and Spanish or something like that. We lived in mixed neighborhoods, so the color of our skin wasn’t a big deal.”

Naomi Joy Brazeil grew up in Maryland surrounded by the Christian faith and churches that were predominately Hatian. 

“I grew up with a lot of Haitian friends and just learning that culture. When we went out to Haiti, we were with friends and set up the orphanage there and that was probably one of the most immersive trips for me because of the stark contrast between the US and Haiti,” Naomi Joy said. 

Michelle and Naomi Joy Brazeil created Sweet Joys Cakes and Desserts to share their creations, focusing solely on their passion rather than emphasizing their skin color. Yet, they continue to confront and overcome stereotypes. 

“Even in doing Sweet Joys, I think because we are African American, there is a stigma that could be associated with certain cultural businesses being African American, Spanish, whatever, that you go into an establishment, you can think because it’s this or that, then they get a pass if it’s not clean or if there’s something, but we try to make sure that our establishment is clean, that we are following all of our orders, we have all of our licenses in place. My biggest thing is that anything that walks out of that door needs to look right because it has our name attached to it, not more so our color, but it represents Naomi Joy Brazeil and Michelle Brazeil,” she said. “We are more conscious because we are African American that there that we make sure that it’s right, so that there is no anything negative that can come back. Like, ‘Oh no, they’re just like girls and their stuff looks terrible’, but it’s definitely an honor and a privilege and we like to give back to the community.”

Between the support from her family and people in Harrisonburg, Naomi Joy Brazeil doesn’t noticed facing many challenges for her nationality or skin color. 

“My parents and I have been able to really fund this ourselves. We haven’t really had any grants or loans or apply for anything like that, and we’ve been able to meet different people in the city that would be able to network with and everyone’s been really great like the mayor, just different people in the community,” Naomi Joy Brazeil. 

Rather, Naomi Joy Brazeil experienced support from community members in Harrisonburg. 

“We get a lot of people that come in, and they’re like, ‘We saw that it was black-owned, and we just wanted to come and support and we’re so proud of you’. It’s like you’ve never met before and I just love that, so it’s been a lot of support from the black community,” Naomi Joy Brazeil said. 

Working together on Sweet Joys, Michelle and Naomi Joy Brazeil has a relationship unlike many mother-daughter relationships. 

“Sometimes, I had to convince her, ‘Look, I’m not Mom. We’re partners in this. Your opinion is not going to hurt my feelings. It’s okay to say, ‘Hey, Mom, let’s do this versus this’ because she’s always been very, very respectful, so she had to learn that it’s okay,” Michelle Brazeil said. “I hope I’ve been a good mom. I know a lot of people say they can’t work with their child, but we’ve been able to do it. We’ve been through some deep waters where we come out really good. We still love each other and support each other. I’m probably her biggest fan. This is a big undertaking. We never thought about it. It’s been easy, but we look back over it and was like, ‘Wow, how did we get here?’ It’s just crazy.”

For Naomi Joy Brazeil, she noticed the efforts put in by Michelle Brazeil to support her Naomi Joy Brazeil as a business partner and daughter. 

“She’s always been my biggest cheerleader. Doing this with her is really special because I know she has my best interests at heart and it’s really great that we can do this together because we started it together,” Naomi Joy Brazeil said. 

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