(TMU) — Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea, a couple with heart and soul, officially opened the third of their volunteer-run restaurants. JBJ Soul Kitchen opened at Rutgers University in Newark on January 22 of this year.
The on campus restaurant’s goal is to cater to students facing food insecurity. More than 75% of the 36,000 undergraduate students receive financial aid, according to the university’s website.
JBJ Soul Kitchen offers a freshly prepared three course meal and patrons don’t have to worry about the check if they aren’t able to pay. To avoid patrons being stigmatized by the issues surrounding food insecurity, servers at the restaurant won’t know whether patrons paid for their meal thanks to the “pay it forward” and volunteer system used.
Bon Jovi explained the logic behind opening a restaurant at Rutgers to NBC Nightly News:
“We opened our first Soul Kitchen ten years ago in Red Bank, New Jersey after Super Storm Sandy. And the second one on Toms River, because those were the people most impacted by it.”
“Now what we realize is that there were kids in colleges that were hungry,” he continued. “And this was a—logical progression. And Rutgers really embraced the concept.”
“People had this romanticized version of the starving student. It’s not as romantic as we would like to think it is,” Dorothea added.
The TODAY Show’s January 27 episode aired footage from the interview in which Bon Jovi talked about the partnership, “We were approached by the food service provider here, and we had been aware of food insecurity on college campuses, and it was just a natural fit,” he said.
At the Rutgers JBJ Soul Kitchen students, faculty, staff, and community members will pay $12 or use a meal swipe to enter the establishment. Money for meals can be donated over and above the cost of their own meal to help cover the cost for someone else. By volunteering at the restaurant, patrons can earn meals for themselves or as donations for others.
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It feels good when a dream becomes reality! Humbled to be joined by so many members of the New Jersey community who made today's opening celebration of the @JBJSoulKitchen possible. Opening to the Rutgers University-Newark community tomorrow, this is our first location to open on a college campus. The hope: to play a role in alleviating food insecurity among college students and giving them the support they need to achieve their dreams. Huge "thank you's" to: @RUnewarkdining, @Runewark, @govmurphy and his team, JBJSF board members, all of our donors & the Newark community. We can't wait to do great things together! #HopeisDelicious @jbjskrun 📸: @meghsoneill
The two other JBJ Soul Kitchens, both in New Jersey, bring people of various socioeconomic backgrounds together where they dine at communal tables. Serving paying and non-paying customers, the communal dining style helps bridge economic, cultural, and social differences by connecting people who might have never met or even spoken to each other in other circumstances.
The newest location aims to create these connections between Rutgers students and the surrounding community as well and will offer different meal options for students that include vegan, gluten-free, halal, and kosher food, which will help bring in students from many different backgrounds.
JBJ Soul Kitchen plans to also grow the school’s existing food pantry, adjacent to the restaurant, which last year served 30 tons of food.
Jon and Dorothea put their money where their hearts are. The couple began helping those less fortunate when they launched the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in 2006. The foundation has helped support over 600 units of affordable and supportive housing in 10 states for thousands of people including youth and veterans. The foundation has since expanded its mission to help those struggling with food insecurity by providing warm, nutritious meals to those in need through their JBJ Soul Kitchens.
“We have been so blessed and so lucky. To see people not be able to feed their families, it’s just not acceptable,” said Dorothea.