What do you get when you invite a Food Writer to the opening of a restaurant owned by a New Jersey Rock Icon? The same thing you always get, show me the food! Yeah, he’s cute that Jon Bon Jovi guy and yeah, he’s worth a gazillion bucks, and he and his wife, Dorothea, are doing great things to fight hunger (and you know we love that) but, out of my way, Handsome, and let me in that kitchen.
Did that seem convincing? I’m really trying. (Oh, alright, I admit ladies, he’s still a hottie and the whole philanthropic/happily married thing just makes him hotter. Satisfied?)
But, lets keep it professional and get back to the kitchen, or better yet, back to the inception of Soul Kitchen. While all the press insists on calling it Jon Bon Jovi’s new restaurant, it is actually the brainchild of his wife Dorothea, who is incredibly humble and never even spoke at the event. The lady is a class act. Of course, adoring husband (dammit) Jon, was right with her all the way on getting the concept going. They actually started two years ago at St. Anthony’s Church in Red Bank, experimenting with the model and working out the kinks. They outgrew the church and moved a few blocks over to Lunch Break where they met Lunch Break’s resident chef, Terrence Stewart. Terrence earned his culinary degree at the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Culinary School. Can this story get any better? (Terrence candidly told me that in all his life he’s never had so many pictures taken of him. I told him to get used to it, and from the looks of things, I think he’s getting the hang of it.)
Guess who else we found in the kitchen, a gentleman they call, Mr. B. Yep, that would be Jon’s Dad, Mr. Bongiovi, slaving away, and Anthony Serpico, who was a volunteer cook at Lunch Break and is now working full time at Soul Kitchen. I hope these guys get along, because they are back to back in a very tight galley kitchen, open to the dining crowd. No Chef Ramsey tantrum meltdowns happening here.
One of my burning questions of the day was “Does this model work?” Had they copied another successful “Pay What You Can” restaurant from somewhere else? My question was answered by Lou Morreale, another cook and one of the individuals who has been with Soul Kitchen from the incubation phase at Saint Anthony’s. “Yes, it works.” Lou said. “Some people throw down a $100 bill, others pay $15. It just seems to balance out.” The answer to the second question, is No, they are paving the way for this new model that they hope spreads throughout the country.
There are no prices on the menu. Guests are encouraged to pay the “suggested donation” or diners can earn a seat at the table for themselves or their family for time worked either at Soul Kitchen, Lunch Break or other local organizations. As Jon put it during the press conference. “The 12 year old who has worked in the garden is empowered by coming home with a gift certificate for a meal the family can enjoy and celebrate with.” They make it very clear, Soul Kitchen is not a Soup Kitchen. There are no free meals.
One of the most striking first impressions you get of the restaurant as you approach is their organic garden beds in the front yard of what was once a parking lot for a dingy auto shop. It’s a small place with only enough seating for 30, so reservations are recommended. This weekend is their grand opening, so I am going to recommend you wait a few weeks. As we huddled under the tent set up for press yesterday and I was flanked by ABC, NBC, and what seemed like every other major news network, it was apparant that the Bon Jovi name has done its magic for this fantastic new restaurant concept.
Being born and raised in Red Bank, with roots that grow very deep and for many generations, I am thrilled and so very proud that the Bon Jovi family has chosen my town, our town, as its first stop on what I know will be one of many. One of the big shot personalities from one of the big shot TV stations asked Jon during the conference, “Why Red Bank?” My first reaction was to kick her in the shins, but I refrained. Jon had a better answer, ” From the time I could afford to live away from my parents, I’ve live in Monmouth County. I still have a home in Monmouth County. Red Bank is Home Town USA.”
For more fabulous pictures from yesterday’s press event, visit our Facebook page and thank you to our talented photographer Chantale Taurozzi for braving the truly nasty weather under a tent we were sure was going to blow away with all of us in it.
The JBJ Soul Kitchen
207 Monmouth Street
Red Bank, NJ 07701
Deborah Smith , Founder and Executive Editor of JerseyBites.com.