Photo Credit: John W. Ferguson/Getty Images
Jon Bon Jovi is giving back to his community in Red Bank, N.J. -- but he's going to make them work for it. On Wednesday, the 49-year-old New Jersey native and his wife Dorothea opened up a gourmet soup kitchen called JBJ Soul Kitchen. And while the "pay-what-you-can" restaurant won't turn anyone away, it will ask diners to contribute to the community in order to keep eating the fine cuisine.
The deal is that locals can come in to Soul Kitchen and eat the food, which includes 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. But if attendees don't have the money to pay for the food themselves, they are encouraged to either volunteer at the restaurant or contribute around the community and come back with a gift voucher for the dining hot spot.
"With the economic downturn, one of the things I noticed was that disposable income was one of the first things that went," Bon Jovi tells the Associated Press. "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."
And all those memories will cost diners is a little bit of give-back to the community. "If you come in and say, 'I'm hungry,' we'll feed you," the rocker says. "But we're going to need you to do something. It's very important to what we're trying to achieve."
What Bon Jovi is trying to achieve is a feeling on communal inclusion -- not exclusion. "This is not an entitlement thing," Bon Jovi insists. "This is about empowering people because you have to earn that gift certificate." The gift certificate can be earned by busing tables, acting as a sous chef in the kitchen or working in the restaurant's garden, which provides many of the vegetables.
And you don't have to be an adult to contribute. "A 12-year-old is empowered because if they're coming and working in the garden and they take that gift certificate home, that may be the meal that the family gets to go out and celebrate," Bon Jovi said at a press conference for the opening.
While the musician's idea sounds simple -- and smart -- it took hard work to pull off. Bon Jovi experimented with the concept at two different locations over the past two years, trying to determine what Red Bank needed best for the community. In 2011, he sank $250,000 into buying and renovating an old auto-body shop and set up the official JBJ Soul Kitchen. And instead of just letting someone else do all his dirty work, Bon Jovi works five to six hour days in the kitchen alongside his staff and volunteers.
The menus at Soul Kitchen don't have any prices, and that's because restaurant-goers are asked to just leave what they can in an envelope on the table after their meal. The food is either grown in a garden behind the restaurant or donated by a local Whole Foods. So far, Bon Jovi said the experiment is a success. He already has other towns coming to him and asking him to expand.
"This is a place based and built on community," he says. "There's a great need for them, both in urban and suburban environments. I've already had offers to increase our footprint."