Food = Love

Writer Fadi Sitto

Photography Courtesy of Joy Bus Diner

A hero is someone who is selfless—generous on purpose, in heart and in practice, with an unwavering deep belief that something worthwhile can always be achieved. That’s how I would describe Jennifer Caraway.

Jennifer is the founder and operator of Joy Bus Diner, a Valley non-profit making a difference with every delicious meal they serve.   

The Joy Bus mission is to help relieve the day-to-day struggles of homebound cancer patients with food and companionship. They do this by delivering nutritious, made-from-scratch, chef-inspired, home-cooked meals.

It’s All About Joy

Joy Bus Diner, located on Shea Boulevard in northeast Phoenix, opens its doors and hearts every day to the public in honor of Joy, Jennifer Caraway’s dear friend. The diner serves high-quality comfort foods and specialty dishes, with all profits from the diner benefiting the Joy Bus charity.

Joy was diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer in 2011. Jennifer couldn’t just sit around doing nothing, so she started making little homemade treats and ice cream for Joy from her kitchen at home. She just wanted to support her friend. 

“I started thinking and wondering if there was a service that does this for people who are in her position, I started researching and I couldn’t find anyone who was doing this, so I started one,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer got her approval for the Joy Bus from the Arizona Corporation Commission in February 2012.

“I framed the certificate of approval and showed it to Joy. It brings a smile to my face every time, because Joy knew of my plans for the foundation before she passed away,” Jennifer explains.

She hit the ground running and started preparing the meals out of her house for the next four years. Jennifer partnered with Case Managers Society of America, which would start referring cancer patients to her. 

One patient led to another, then another. She started to realize the scope and the need for her help and services.

“I would just go to their house, sit with them and give them rad food,” Jennifer says. 

She was helping numerous families and the program was growing, but she needed more space. The need to expand to a commercial kitchen led to the creation of the one-of-a-kind Joy Bus Diner. 

Jennifer Caraway is a self-taught, award-winning chef who is bravely influencing the landscape of the culinary arts.

Jennifer started in the restaurant industry when she was 14, washing dishes and busing tables until working her way up to establishing four restaurants. 

She’s good at what she does: she recently beat three other prestigious chefs to win $10,000 on the popular Food Network show “Chopped.”

Once she obtained her commercial kitchen, she needed support. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness and money for the Joy Bus Diner program.

Jennifer went to local area farmers’ markets asking for produce and food donations for the Joy Bus, but nobody was interested. “I begged and begged,” she says, but still no takers.

Never discouraged and even more determined, she found a local farm that was open to taking a chance. Crooked Sky Farms believed in her vision and came through in a big way, and is the only farm that she uses today.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Crooked Sky Farms was the catalyst, but she needed more help. It was soon on its way. 

Along with Crooked Sky, Joy Bus supporters include Fox Restaurant Concepts, Gio Osso of Virtu, Charleen Badman of FnB, and acclaimed dessert chef Tracy Dempsey, to name a few. 

Wildflower Bread Company donates bread, Roastery of Cave Creek contributes coffee, and flour is provided by Hayden Flour Mills. All of the ground beef is donated by Arcadia Meat Market and is completely organic, grass-fed and local. Everything at the diner is organic, which is vital for the cancer patients they serve.

From the tables and chairs that were donated by Sam Fox, to the kitchen doors donated by Pei Wei, this place is blessed with local flavor and style. Jennifer even convinced a Valley company to donate toilets for the diner. 

Today, the Joy Bus serves 50 families every Friday, delivering and serving the food within an hour of making it. In addition, the patients can also come to the diner and eat free any day of the week—every day, if they want to. All of the people that the Joy Bus serves are stage four cancer patients.

It’s not only about the food. Volunteers deliver the food every Friday and happily sit with patients and spend time with them. It’s the only interaction many patients have with someone who is not a family member.

Each month, a different chef partner volunteers in the diner kitchen. Renowned chefs from high-end restaurants all over the Valley are always happy to be a part of this unique experience.

“Our volunteers are literally the best people. We have dedicated people who come in every day and cook, or hostess or deliver meals. We’re really lucky,” Jennifer says. 

Lisa Coughlin, manager of Joy Bus Diner, began as a volunteer. She started showing up every day, so Jennifer gave her a job. Lisa is the Joy Bus’s secret weapon.

She can often be found dressed in a banana suit, dancing on the street corner trying to get people to come in the diner. 

Yes, it works.

“They try to fire me every day and I just keep showing up,” Lisa jokingly says.

Lisa has a gift. She makes everyone around her happy—and it’s contagious.

From the manager to the head chef, this is not your typical diner. “I love this place, I’ve been cooking now for over 15 years, and it’s so much different because I’m actually giving back,” says Ben Farley, chef at Joy Bus Diner.

Ben was an executive chef at high-end restaurants, and was set to go back to fine dining when Jennifer found him. Ben is happy she did. He gets to send his chef-inspired meals every Friday to uplift cancer patients, and he wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.

The diner is familial, welcoming and community driven. Forever thankful for her loyal customers, Jennifer comes to work every morning and walks by every table. She knows nearly everyone by name. 

“It’s like I’m walking into my house, such a cool thing that everyone has created here,” she glowingly says.

Always thinking of more ways to help, Jennifer has the hope of purchasing her own commercial space to grow the program. She plans to add an organic pantry so patients can come by and get fresh produce anytime they want. 

The Joy Bus strives to improve the lives of local cancer patients through the simple concept of hand-delivered meals and face-to-face relationships. In reality, Joy Bus diner delivers compassion and love, disguised as food—and that’s something we can all step aboard.

thejoybusdiner.com

Experience

Joy Bus Diner

Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m.–2 p.m. | 3375 E. Shea Blvd., Phoenix | 602-595-5884 | thejoybusdiner.com

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