At the April Planning Board Meeting in Red Bank, the JBJ Soul Kitchen, founded by Dorothea Bongiovi (wife of pop-rock musician Jon Bon Jovi) received instant, unanimous approval for its plans to open a permanent community-based eatery, which will provide a meal for anybody who walks in – whether he/she can pay or not. The plans had been filed by her mega-star philanthropist husband's non-profit organization, the JBJ Soul Foundation.
Bongiovi, in partnership with Zeet Peabody, received approval to open in a 1050 square foot space at 207 Monmouth Street, a building that formerly was an auto repair shop. Soul Kitchen will be a pay-what-you-can restaurant serving approximately 26 to 30 people. A $10 donation to pay for a meal is suggested, but if a person doesn't have the money, he/she can work it off in the kitchen.
The Soul Kitchen started in January 2010 with a staggered schedule at St. Anthony’s of Padua and Lunch Break in Red Bank. With the Planning Board's approval, construction will start shortly on the space to add a kitchen, dining room, appropriate lighting and exterior signage. Plans also call for improvements to the sidewalk and driveway, which will be redone in gray stone, not pavement according to attorney Michael Monroe.
According to Dorothea Bongiovi, Soul Kitchen should be up and operating some time in September.
Her vision is to see the eatery as a job training center and a community center. In the front, there will be an organic garden providing food for the restaurant. And her vision isn't just local – it's global. Bongiovi want to build the Red Bank kitchen as a template for community activists to open JBJ Soul Kitchens around the country and abroad. The restaurant is based on community restaurants that have appeared in Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.
Bongiovi has worked with her partner, Zeet Peabody, for the last two years holding Soul Kitchen Sunday Suppers at both St. Anthony's and Lunch Break. Peabody comes from a restaurant background as former restaurateur and chef at the renowned Bistro Zeeto in Atlantic Highlands. He eventually became a personal chef and restaurant consultant and has been advising Bongiovi on this project, about which she feels very strongly. According to Bongiovi, people need to feel that they have a place to go – a place where people ask how you are. It's about fellowship and it's empowering for people to know they've earned their meal just like everyone else.