Jon Bon Jovi’s new restaurant in Red Bank builds community, helps hungry



Soul Teaching a man to fish may guarantee his meals long-term. But for the next few weeks, or months? Probably not, in today’s economy.

Too many overqualified fisherman are out there on the water, casting for the same, few fish.

To help right now, the best we can offer may be the fish itself — and a seat at the table to eat among neighbors.

That’s the message behind Soul Kitchen, a new Red Bank restaurant. Established by Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, and supported by the rocker’s namesake foundation, the restaurant employs a flexible payment model similar to that of A Better World Café in Highland Park and other establishments nationwide.

The food is gourmet, including produce from the restaurant’s garden. The décor is upscale. Patrons don’t wait in line — they are waited on.

Yet the meal doesn’t end with a check. Instead, customers make a donation, arranged discreetly by the waitstaff. Those with the means give money, either the suggested donation of $10 or more to support the cause. Those without can volunteer.

Even in affluent Monmouth County, plenty are without.

“Hunger is everywhere,” said Linda Keenan, acting executive director of the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

More than 16 percent of New Jerseyans struggled to afford food last year. Keenan said her organization serves more than 127,500 people in Monmouth and Ocean counties alone — an 84 percent increase from 2006.

Soul Kitchen isn’t a soup kitchen or a food pantry. The meal it offers, while helpful, isn’t its main goal. (Nor is job creation, although it employs four people — including chef Terrence Stewart, who got the job after completing the food bank’s Culinary Job Skills Training program.)

Instead, Soul Kitchen provides an opportunity for diverse neighbors — affluent and otherwise — to enjoy themselves while supporting each other. As Mimi Box, executive director of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, put it: “Building relationships has to start somewhere.”

Like Starbucks’ new customer-supported microlending effort, Soul Kitchen’s success depends on consumers’ generosity and their belief that their contributions matter.

But if we’ve learned anything from the swell of support for the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements, it’s that Americans do share that belief. We want to provide for ourselves, and for each other. We want a seat at the table. And it can start at a restaurant in Red Bank.