John Chadwell, Corazon Ministries kitchen manager, (left) teaches Maria Rincon, Corazon Ministries volunteer, how to prepare the vegetables.
John Chadwell, Corazon Ministries kitchen manager, (left) teaches volunteer Maria Rincon how to prepare the vegetables. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

John Chadwell co-owns a critically acclaimed restaurant in Brooklyn. His wife, Treva Chadwell, is a classically trained chef who once worked for The Food Network. For the past five years, the Chadwells have prepared meals for the set of Blue Bloods, the CBS drama starring Tom Selleck.

So John knows a share of celebrities. He also knows the hungry, which is one reason he’s taken on a rather unconventional gig: chef to the homeless.

Four times a week, John, 52, cooks meals for the undernourished, the marginalized who visit Corazon Ministries, a downtown outreach of Travis Park United Methodist Church. From the church kitchen last Thursday, he prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, guacamole, and tomato soup. He offered cheesecake for dessert. Almost 90 people were fed.

“It’s the best kept secret in San Antonio,” said Martin Coons, a Corazon regular for 15 years. “The food is delicious. It’s visually appealing and to the palate, it’s awesome.”

A five-star customer review is not unusual. John and Treva, 51, have received plenty from patrons at the BeeHive Oven Biscuit Café, a popular eatery that’s been featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The New York Post.

In a review of New York’s finest biscuits, the Times described BeeHive’s specialty as “nearly toppling, their slopes suggesting landslides of dough. They have amber lids and interiors that are somehow fluffy and dense at once, delicate yet robust enough to survive when stuffed with fried chicken or shrimp remoulade.”

So how was Corazon Ministries able to hire a Times-acclaimed restaurateur? It was John’s idea, actually.

Corazon needed a chef. Gavin Rogers, Travis Park’s associate pastor, reached out to John, a friend and San Antonio native, for suggestions. John thought it over and recommended himself.

“We just lucked into it,” Rogers said. “I would have put down 100 bucks he would have never thought to do this.”

John’s motivation? “People need to eat, and we enjoy doing that,” he said. “We don’t do it out of some grand mission. It’s work that needs to be done, and we are happy to do it.”

His has been a wild and unpredictable journey. There have been music aspirations, multiple hurricanes, and career detours. John studied music education at Texas State in the 1980s and played trumpet in the marching band. Treva played the clarinet. On a band road trip in New Orleans, they shared their first kiss as Hurricane Juan blew through.

The Chadwells married in 1990. Over the years, John worked as an account executive for Apple and as a manager for a tech company in Manhattan. Treva, meanwhile, taught math when she and John lived in Austin and enrolled in culinary school after they moved to New York in 2007. Later, Treva became a recipe developer for The Food Network.

A Category 3 storm spun their lives around in 2012. John and Treva were scratching out a living in the Big Apple when Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29. Two days later, as they flew from San Antonio back to New York, they witnessed the devastation below. Broken homes. Toppled trees. A pile of wrecked boats.

To help, John and Treva baked 750 biscuits, prepared five gallons of Frito pie, bought fried chicken, and fed the famished for five hours on Rockaway Beach in Queens. The displaced were not only grateful. They were curious. “Where is your restaurant?”

The Chadwells did not have one.

Inspired by the response, the Chadwells opened a booth at the Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, the largest, weekly open-air food market in the United States. Their southern chicken biscuit became a hit with customers and food critics. “I’m happy they wrote us up,” said John, who was born in San Antonio and moved to South Carolina at the age of 5. “That got us notoriety. But people found us and liked the food.”

The question kept coming: “Where is your restaurant?”

BeeHive Oven Biscuit Café opened In May 2014. Three years later, the Chadwells left it in the hands of a general manager and moved to San Antonio to pursue new ventures and support their parents.

Two weeks ago, John received a text at the ballpark, where he was watching a San Antonio Missions baseball game. The sender wanted suggestions for a new chef for Corazon Ministries.

John cooked for 82 guests his first day last week. Afterward, several sought him out in the kitchen. They told him he had prepared the best meal they’d ever had. John thanked them and formed a connection.

“John interacts with our guests more than [some] previous chefs,” said Rogers, who noted that a respected former kitchen manager still volunteers at the church. “He’s going to be a voice beyond the kitchen, which is cool. He won’t be somebody who just comes in and does the job.”

Lori Chidgey, executive director of Corazon Ministries, agrees. “John brings a whole different level of quality and leadership,” she said.

Treva, an instructor at the Central Market Cooking School, understands why. Last year, she and John raised enough money through BeeHive Oven to provide 2,600 meals for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The homeless at Travis Park Methodist represent another population in need.

“It’s the perfect job for him,” Treva said. “He’s a compassionate person and community-minded, always wanting to help others.”

Bonnie Arbittier contributed to this report. 

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Ken Rodriguez

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native and award-winning journalist.