It’s 11:30 on a chilly Sunday morning, and a line is already forming outside Soul Kitchen, Jon Bon Jovi’s new restaurant in Red Bank. The spot has only been open about a month, but interest is high in the rock star’s new venture—an eatery dedicated to helping low-income families get a healthy meal.
Some hope to catch a glimpse of Bon Jovi himself; the Sayreville native has a house nearby in Middletown and often drops by to lend a hand washing dishes. Others are waiting to try dishes on the ambitious menu, such as cornmeal-crusted catfish, rainbow beet salad or roast chicken with mashed sweet potatoes. But most drop by to offer their support; customers make donations so that those who can’t pay can be fed.
“I originally came here to eat because I felt it was a really great way to go out and know your money is going to something useful for the community,” says Christina Georgas, a Brick resident who has returned to Soul Kitchen as a volunteer waitress. Wearing a T-shirt with the restaurant’s slogan, “Hope Is Delicious,” Georgas says she enjoyed her grilled salmon, but it was the atmosphere that inspired her to volunteer. “I wanted to be a part of what they’re trying to accomplish.”
For now, Soul Kitchen, which opened October 20, serves dinner Thursday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Averaging roughly 90 customers per meal, the restaurant has attracted patrons from as far as Virginia. The turnout so far exceeded the expectations of Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, who were hoping for closer to 60 diners a day.
Housed in a renovated car-repair shop, the restaurant feels like an upscale café, not a soup kitchen. It has a dozen black tables adorned with battery-powered candles and white linen napkins. Dark wood pantry shelves stretch 15 feet from the concrete floor to the ceiling. Modern glass chandeliers hang above the tables.
“What we’re doing is trying to empower the community to get past any kind of judgment of those who need assistance,” says Bon Jovi, whose Soul Foundation has also built some 270 homes nationwide for the needy. “We don’t need another for-profit restaurant in the world.”