In three decades as one of the world’s biggest rock stars, Jon Bon Jovi has eaten in some of the world’s best restaurants, savoring the best food the planet has to offer.
Yet there’s no place he’d rather have dinner than The Soul Kitchen, a “pay-what-you-can” restaurant he and his wife Dorothea established in a former auto body shop near the Red Bank train station in central New Jersey.
The restaurant provides gourmet-quality meals to the hungry while enabling them to volunteer on community projects in return without the stigma of visiting a soup kitchen. Paying customers are encouraged to leave whatever they want in the envelopes on each table, where the menus never list a price.
The restaurant is the latest undertaking by the New Jersey rocker’s Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which has built 260 homes for low-income residents in recent years.
“With the economic downturn, one of the things I noticed was that disposable income was one of the first things that went,” Bon Jovi said on Wednesday before the restaurant’s grand opening ceremony. “Dining out, the family going out to a restaurant, mom not having to cook, dad not having to clean up — a lot of memories were made around restaurant tables.
“When I learned that one in six people in this country goes to bed hungry, I thought this was the next phase of the Foundation’s work,” he said.
It started several years ago when Dorothea Bongiovi (she uses the legal spelling of her husband’s name) and Jon started helping out at a food pantry at nearby St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church. They later moved their focus to the Lunch Break program, which feeds 80 to 120 people a day, dubbing it “The Soul Kitchen.”
They brought that name with them to a former auto body shop down the street from the Count Basie Theater, where Jon and his self-titled band have played many fundraising shows for local charities.
It took a year and $250,000, but the restaurant now rivals any of its competitors in trendy Red Bank, with entrees like cornmeal crusted catfish with red beans and rice, grilled chicken breast with homemade basil mayo and rice pilaf, and grilled salmon with soul seasonings, sweet potato mash and sauteed greens, many of which were grown in the herb and vegetable garden right outside the restaurant’s doors.
Bon Jovi, who has a home in next-door Middletown, is adamant about one thing.