(The following post is from the Capital News Service)

When Tamarra Thomas first opened her small artisan candy shop in Bowie two years ago, she never dreamed her passion for sweets would someday land her a spot on a Food Network reality show.

She also never dreamed she would beat out three other pastry chefs on national television to take home the $10,000 prize and the title of “Sweet Genius.”

Last week, Food Network viewers across the country watched as the Bowie resident was named the winning contestant on “Sweet Genius,” a competition where chefs battle it out to create desserts in timed challenges with surprise ingredients.

At T.J. Elliot’s Restaurant, dozens of friends and neighbors gathered to watch the episode. When Thomas was named the winner, the whole room exploded with loud cheers and applause.

“It was exhilarating, it was fun, it was way harder than it looks on TV,” Thomas said of her experience on the show.

Thomas is the proud owner of Mama Cocoa’s Delights, tucked away in the basement of an antique store in old town Bowie. The shop features everything from chocolate truffles to caramels to lollipops — all of which Thomas makes herself.

The store may have never opened in the first place had Thomas’s life not taken an unexpected turn. She was laid off from her previous job as a pastry chef three years ago.

“That kind of ended up making me go, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s time to open my shop,’” Thomas said.

And her new job as a small business owner is one Thomas said she would not trade for anything.

“The beauty about candy making is it’s a happy job, and my customers are happy and (in) general there’s this elation when people come in here,” she said.

Over the past two years of the store’s existence, customers have fallen in love with Thomas’s bubbly personality and penchant for combining unique flavors in her candies. Her most popular item to date is the Fig Kelly — chopped up figs and caramel dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt.

“Her candies are delicious, and her spirit is so wonderful,” customer Felicia Hinton said. “I’m just so happy for her and so proud of her and her accomplishments.”

While Thomas had always been a fan of ‘Sweet Genius,’ she never seriously considered applying as a contestant, until friend and fellow pastry chef Sharon White begged her to audition.

“Literally every time she saw me she talked to me about going on ‘Sweet Genius,’” Thomas said. “So one day I sent an e-mail in as part of the audition process just to shut her up … But then they called, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, now I have to do this.’”

Before she knew it, Thomas was flying out to New York for the two-day filming of the competition. It wasn’t until Thursday that any of her friends or family members knew she had returned the winner and $10,000 richer.

Thomas said her winnings will be invested into keeping her small business afloat. While she plans to keep running Mama Cocoa’s the same way she has for the past two years, Thomas said she is also excited to see any new changes that may come in the future.

“We’re gonna continue doing what we’ve always been doing, but if we kinda veer this way, wonderful. It’ll be a new adventure,” she said.