Cooking Up Kindness in Red Bank

first_imgBy John BurtonRED BANK — The latest project for rock star Jon Bon Jovi took him out of the recording studio and into the kitchen.Soul Kitchen, a restaurant with a mission established by Bon Jovi, his wife, Dorothea, and their Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, held its grand opening on Wednesday.Located at 207 Monmouth St., just east of Shrewsbury Avenue, the small restaurant is a pilot program aimed at reducing hunger in the community.The restaurant is intended to operate on “the Power of We,” Jon Bon Jovi said during a press conference on opening day. “The Power of We” is also the motto of the Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.“We are not a soup kitchen,” he stated. “We are here to empower people who just need a hand up.”The inspiration for the project, which Bon Jovi said is really his wife’s passion, grew out of a volunteer effort their foundation began doing a few years ago, serving dinners on Sunday evenings at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church on Bridge Ave. and later at the Lunch Break soup kitchen and food pantry on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.The Soul Kitchen offers a full menu in an intimate dining area (seating is limited to around 30), and patrons are asked to make a suggested cash donation (or even a little more if they can afford to) or offer their time as volunteers in exchange for their meals. This way all are guaranteed a place at the table, regardless of ability to pay, Bon Jovi said.“This is a restaurant based on and for the community.”Soul Kitchen is located on property that once held an auto body shop but had been vacant for years.Now that the property is fully renovated, restaurant workers plan to grow vegetables in the front garden for use in the Soul Kitchen.Given the fact that one in five households are living below the poverty level and one out of six Americans are food insecure—meaning “someone is going to bed hungry”—“this is a restaurant whose time has come,” Bon Jovi said.Zeet Peabody, the restaurant’s executive chef, said the cuisine is best described as “American Regional,” meaning it is a healthier menu based on traditional soul food. He plans to incorporate vegetables from the garden and local produce with a “not so hidden agenda of getting the Garden State back to being the Garden State,” Peabody said.Speakers at the press conference offered their support for the project and expressed admiration for the Bon Jovis’ efforts with this and other philanthropic projects.Eugene Cheslock, M.D. president of the Parker Family Health Center, told of the work Jon and Dorothea have done for the Center, adding their considerable support to the establishment of the free medical clinic.And if the day was about empowerment, as Bon Jovi stressed, it was also about a family, noted Cheslock. “The Bon Jovi family, who chose to share their prosperity with everybody.”Jon Bon Jovi said he decided to establish the restaurant in Red Bank because “I have roots here,” living just across the Navesink River in Middletown. “I lived in (Monmouth) County since I was able to afford to live here instead of at my parents’ house,” he said, adding that he has resided in the area since 1985.“What you have done,” former mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. told the couple, “is to help others with their greatest need in life.” If Soul Kitchen is well received, it could be the first of many locations, Bon Jovi said.The restaurant is scheduled to open to the public on Thursday. Because seating is limited, reservations are strongly recommended and may be made by calling calling