Thanks to a certain megastar from the Garden State, no one needs to go hungry if they live near Red Bank or Toms River, New Jersey. And soon, the same will be true in Newark.
JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community restaurant and program created by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, was designed to ensure that everyone has access to a nutritious and delicious hot meal. There are two locations now, with a third set to open Jan. 23 on the campus of Rutgers-Newark University in Newark.
Unlike your standard restaurant, the JBJ Soul Kitchen is an eatery with a mission. You won’t find any prices listed on the menu. To dine in, you have two options: You can make a donation, or you can volunteer. One hour of work cooking, washing dishes, busing tables or waitressing earns anyone a three-course meal. At the original locations to cover a meal with cash, guests are asked to make a minimum $20 donation, or more if they want to help cover the cost of others. The Newark location will be a $12 minimum.
That hour of work or donation will buy you a soup or salad, an entree and a freshly baked dessert, all made with fresh, local and, when available, organic ingredients.
'We need your help'
What inspired the singer to open such a unique establishment? Bon Jovi told The Daily Beast back when JBJ Soul Kitchen first opened in 2011, “One in six people in America are suffering at night and going to bed hungry, and one in five families live at or below the poverty line.”
“What this restaurant is truly meant to do is empower. You don’t come in here with a sense of entitlement. You come in here and volunteer because we need your help.”
The purpose of JBJ Soul Kitchen isn’t just to feed the body. It’s also built to nourish the community. As they say on their website, “Friendship is our daily special.” That means that when you are seated, you may not know the person eating next to you or across from you, but you’re encouraged to introduce yourself to the other diners and build relationships with your neighbors.
According to the website, JBJ Soul Kitchen has served 105,893 meals. About 54% of the people who come in pay with a donation, and the rest are in-need customers who volunteer to earn their meal.
The hope is that by having those who can afford a meal and those who can’t dine together, people will see what hunger looks like, and be motivated to help make a real dent in the issue by advocating for change.
In announcing the newest locating in Newark, Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea Hurley said they plan to open more Soul Kitchens in the future.
"Hunger doesn't look like what your mind's eye might imagine," Hurley told CBS Sunday Morning. "It's the people at your church. It's the kids that go to school with your kids. And I think that was eye-opening for a lot of the community here that said, 'Oh, there's no homeless people here.' And they look around the restaurant, and I say, 'I can name five people right now that I know are homeless in this restaurant right now, but they don't look like what you think they're gonna look like."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published in April 2015.