Soul Chef Jennifer Caraway – Hop Aboard the Joy Bus

The Chef: Jennifer Caraway
The Restaurant: The Joy Bus Diner
The Location: 3375 E. Shea Boulevard, Suite C1, Phoenix
By: Shoshana Leon

The most inspirational people are often the most humble, and Jennifer Caraway is one of those people. A self-taught chef, Jennifer runs the Joy Bus, a nonprofit that delivers meals to home-bound cancer patients, and she recently beat three other chefs to win $10,000 on Food Network’s show Chopped.

A Culinary Journey
Although Jennifer’s roots are in Arizona, her restaurant career has taken her around the world. At 26, she opened a Mexican restaurant in Portland, Oregon and sold it a year later. After working in Mexico, Jennifer packed up her two small kids and headed to Spain for another restaurant adventure.

In 2005, Jennifer and her kids moved to Phoenix. A trip to Italy inspired Jennifer to open a fine dining Italian restaurant in Scottsdale but she soon realized that fine dining was not her passion. Jennifer spent the next several years working for European Imports, distributing cheese, meats and other fine foods, while building relationships with chefs and restaurants across the Valley.

Inspiration and Passion
When Jennifer’s good friend Joy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Jennifer showed her support by cooking for her friend. Joy’s cancer battle led to the creation of the Joy Bus in 2011, a nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound cancer patients with compassion and friendly conversation.

“I was looking for a way to make an impact and help people who didn’t have the level of support that Joy had,” says Jennifer.

When Jennifer started the Joy Bus, she was making meals out of her home. The need to expand with a commercial kitchen led to the creation of the Joy Bus Diner on Shea Boulevard. All profits from the diner benefit the Joy Bus, which has grown from 12 home visits a week to 50.

Embraced by the Community
The keys to the success of the Joy Bus are: Jennifer’s endless passion; the dedication of the volunteers; and the support of the local culinary community, which includes produce donated by Crooked Sky Farms. Joy Bus supporters include Fox Restaurant Concepts, Gio Osso of Virtu and Nico Heirloom Kitchen, Bernie Kantak of the Gladly and Citizen Public House, Charleen Badman of FnB, and acclaimed dessert chef Tracy Dempsey.

“The local culinary community is extremely passionate about the cause,” says Jennifer, “and we couldn’t be successful without their support.”

Community and volunteer support are an integral part of the Joy Bus’ fundraising events. Annual events include the Strike Out Cancer bowling fundraiser in June, Rock the Bus which takes place in September at the Crescent Ballroom, and the 7 Chef Series dinner and silent auction, which takes place on April 15 at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale and features some of the Valley’s top culinary talent.

Of competing on Chopped, Jennifer says, “When I first got the call, I thought it was a joke. I didn’t really want to do it because I don’t enjoy being the center of attention, but I knew it would bring attention to the Joy Bus.” After a 16-hour day on the set, Jennifer won $10,000 which will help the Joy Bus create 1,000 meals.

Growing the Joy Bus
What does Jennifer see as the future for the Joy Bus? “I want to buy my own building and expand the program,” she says. “I want to add an organic pantry so the people we serve can come by and get fresh produce anytime they want.”

Jennifer’s passion is infectious and she will inspire you to get on board the Joy Bus. The Diner is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday and all profits go the program. The Joy Bus is looking for donations, as well as volunteers to cook, deliver meals and plan events. You can learn more at Keep spreading the joy, Jennifer.

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