January 25, 1988 12:00 PM

Six years ago Joyce Rice, a fifth-grade teacher, and her husband, Ted, a Kansas City, Mo., TV cameraman, began looking for a way to spend less time working and more time sailing their 26-foot boat on Lake Superior. They failed. But let’s look on the bright side. After leaving their jobs the Rices started T.J. (for Ted and Joyce) Cinnamons, and now the only sailing they’re doing is on a sea of black ink.

The Rices produce what its fixated fans call the best cinnamon roll in America. Their original eight-ounce, 530-calorie, sticky-sweet bun sells at most places for $1.25 and has acquired a sizable following that includes Lisa Hartman, George Bush and Robert Dole. A mom-and-pop operation less than five years ago, T.J. Cinnamons has grown into a $50-million-a-year business with 203 storefront franchises around the country and commitments for 500 more within another three years.

In pursuit of their dream to sail, Ted and Joyce considered running a deli or an arts-and-crafts store before concluding that cinnamon rolls were their calling because “everybody loves them.” Ted felt it was important for their rolls to be bigger and better than anyone else’s. “Make them softball-size,” he instructed his wife. Joyce painstakingly researched and revised her recipe until they were both satisfied. Then they sank their entire $50,000 nest egg into a customized mobile bakery and, with Kansas City as their base, traveled from cattle shows to car races to fairgrounds—wherever they could find a crowd with an appetite. They opened their first store in a Kansas City shopping mall in 1985 and have never looked back.

As for their dream of year-round sailing, it remains only a fantasy. With business booming, Ted, 55, and Joyce, 42, seldom take any time off. On a recent business trip to Washington, they scheduled a day just for themselves, but when they happened upon a T.J. Cinnamons bakery, they spent the day behind the counter instead. “We couldn’t help ourselves,” Ted says happily. “We are totally involved, and having a ball.”

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