There’s so much negative news in the world, some of us have chosen to stop reading and/or watching entirely.

I’d like to help change that.

Every Tuesday, I’ll highlight an article I find that focuses on GOOD NEWS. This column is called Good News Tuesday.

Spread the word.

This week’s entry comes to us from Marshal Heyman of the Wall Street Journal.

Bon Jovi’s Pay-What-You-Can Eatery

If you head down to the Jersey Shore, it might as well be to hang out with Jon Bon Jovi.

Jon Bon Jovi has opened the doors at Soul Kitchen.

After a soft Friends and Family period to work out some of the kinks, Mr. Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, opened the doors to what he hopes might be the first of several Soul Kitchens.

The idea is this:

There are no prices on the menu, which features such items as Garden State Gumbo, with chicken, pork sausage and Jersey fresh kale and a BBQ grilled salmon filet with soul seasonings, sweet potato mash and sautéed greens. Diners who are able to pay should leave more than the suggested minimum donation; Diners who can’t afford to pay can volunteer to work at the Soul Kitchen to cover their meals. The restaurant is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and for Sunday brunch.

The initiative is part of the JBJ Foundation, which for the most part has focused on developing affordable housing. But with the economic downturn, great achievements in that area were slower to come by, Mr. Bon Jovi explained. One night, he and his wife caught a segment by Brian Williams that showed restaurants offering free menu items to needy patrons in Salt Lake City and Denver. They decided that feeding the community would be the next step for the JBJ Soul Foundation.

The JBJ Soul Kitchen began serving meals two years ago, using pilot locations at a local soup kitchen and a church. Enlisting a few friends and their in-kind donations of time and effort, the Bon Jovis took over and renovated a decrepit 1,100- square-foot auto-body shop into this permanent home which, to its great advantage, has the comforting look and feel of a neighborhood hangout spot.

As preparations were under way to cut the proverbial ribbon, Mr. Bon Jovi explained that he’d never had any interest in opening an actual retail restaurant, like so many other rock stars have done. Food for thought: Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders had a vegan joint called VegiTerranean that recently closed in Akron, Ohio; Justin Timberlake has a barbecue chain called Southern Hospitality with locations in Manhattan.

“No, no, that’s not me. I’m not someone who’s interested in food or good at preparing meals,” Mr. Bon Jovi explained. “I’m more of a dishwasher. I love to wash dishes.” (Maybe that’s a reason his marriage to his high school sweetheart has lasted since 1989.)

“And the amazing thing about this kitchen is I’ve found that the dishes don’t come back so dirty,” he added. “The plates are licked pretty clean, which says something about our food.”

Mr. Bon Jovi, who has lived in Monmouth County since 1985 “ever since I was able to live anywhere else besides my parents’ house,” chose Red Bank because he is familiar with the local government. He explained he often isn’t recognized by patrons, which pleases him greatly since “I’ve had enough accolades in my career.”

Meanwhile, Dorothea prefers to tend the front of house. Their older son spends much of his community service hours pitching in and their older daughter, now in college, has worked as a waitress. Mr. Bon Jovi’s father, John Bongiovi Sr. also helps out in the kitchen.

To supervise the operation, Mr. Bon Jovi enlisted his personal chef, Zeet Peabody. For now, food has been donated by Whole Foods. Mr. Peabody said that he has worked at New York restaurants called Sugar Reef, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Tortilla Flats.

“I’ve been a chef for a long time, and now I’m hiding out,” he said. Though he will be changing dishes with the seasons, “we want to execute at a high standard without intimidating anyone. There’s no foam. There’s no blah blah. It’s down-home cooking. The top seller is a rainbow beet salad. We’re using honey from Jon’s property. It’s not the reinvention of gastronomy.”

“The volunteer base is the essence of the work force and the training is the essence of the mission,” Mr. Peabody added. “The goal is to get people inspired so I can walk out the door and open a new one.”

It’s possible they’ll be inspired by Terrence Fall Off the Bone Roasted Chicken, courtesy of chef Terrence Stewart, and as of now, the one menu item with the name of one of the fellows in the kitchen. (Mr. Peabody plans to add more.)

“It does what it says it does. It falls off the bone,” said Mr. Stewart. “A few women were in here, and I told them ‘I guarantee it.’ They said they’d give me a kiss if it did, and sure enough, I got a kiss.”

Check out Soul Kitchen’s website.

* * *

Bon Jovi and I sure have come a long way since I stripped to his music in 1987.

I had no idea this place existed until last week. Did you?

18 comments

  1. Very cool, and it’s nice to see a guy in his spot doing something for good without glamour.
    I wonder if it’s a sustainable model – could the place survive without him behind it?

    Like

  2. “Pay-What-You-Can…”

    Here is where the rubber meets the road. What happens if the people showing up to eat don’t/won’t pay what they can… how long before the restaurant is out of business?

    I certainly applaud him for his effort…

    ~shoes~

    Like

  3. No and the big point IS that he is making a sincere and honest effort to give back to his community! You do not open places like this in hopes of turning a profit and I am sure that between the press markets and store will get for donating to the eatery and the general good will, this will be a great partnership!!

    Like

  4. This is a great idea. (I’m a Bon Jovi fan anyway, but this makes me admire him more.) The money from those who can pay can pay for the food for those who can’t. It all depends on how honest people are. I know I’d feel like a big jerk if I went in and had a free meal 🙂

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