Jon Bon Jovi opens "pay what you can" restaurant in New Jersey, helps hungry locals who are livin' on a prayer

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Soul Kitchen is a new restaurant opened in Red Bank, New Jersey, by Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea. The establishment offers a "pay what you can afford" payment model, and serves wholesome, gourmet food made with fresh ingredients grown in the restaurant’s garden, and other local produce.

On the website, they explain that Soul Kitchen is "A community restaurant with no prices on the menu; customers donate to pay for their meal. If you are unable to donate you may do volunteer work in exchange for your family's meal."

But as reports, this is no soup kitchen serving up desperation and gruel. "The décor is upscale. Patrons don’t wait in line — they are waited on."

This is a cool thing. If I were in the area, I'd go buy a meal to support the project, or offer to help out in the kitchen for the afternoon. I'm hearing of similar ventures around the country, like the Panera experiment I blogged about here earlier. Boing Boing readers, is there something like Soul Kitchen in your home town?

(via @antderosa)


  1. Fare Start in seattle.  Not exactly the same model, but it trains the needy in kitchen work, making pretty tasty food.  Local chefs come in occasionally, and people from there end up working in other area restaurants after.  Sort of an assisted pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of thing.

  2. After a quick search, Comfort Cafe’ in Denver seems to be up and running. I’m not familiar with its business model as it’s both out of my ‘hood and doesn’t seem to get press as does SAME.

  3. In Montréal, we have the People’s Potato and Midnight Kitchen that are similar, but geared towards university students.

    1.  The Lentil As Anything chain is a good case study. Some of the locations are profitable, but one loses thousands of dollars a week; it’s the one with the highest density of high-rise social housing.

      Good sign that more food is needed for the poor.

  4. I don’t know if its still around, but when I lived in Berlin in 2006 for a short time, there was a place that served food and wine and you paid what you could (though they also made espresso drinks that had proper prices); in Prenzlauerberg.  As far as I could tell, it didn’t have a name (we just called it the Anarchist Cafe).  Really fun laid back place with couches and coffee tables; you could just hang out, eat what they made, and watch world cup matches.

  5. There’s a place in Vancouver that has a ‘pay as you will’ item on the menu – some kind of lentil stew.  Can’t remember the name of it though, which is a shame cause it has an amazing breakfast burrito.

  6. The Comfort Cafe
    I sometimes go into this place in the Berkeley District in Denver and just give them money while I’m there to shop in the district.  It’s a very chill atmosphere, very clean and nice inside.

    While you are out there, be sure and check out the amazing antique store that makes even non-collectors like me crap themselves with all the amazing old toys they have that span every decade you can think of.  I forgot the name of it, but it’s like across the street.

    There’s also this place in Denver:  Cafe 180

  7. There was one in Salt Lake City some years ago (downtown, too!) which operated off of this same model (eat, pay what you can, volunteer if you can’t). My mother would take me there on Sunday after services. For those who think that Salt Lake is synonymous with earnest theocracy, give it another try… in the last twenty years things have changed tremendously.

    Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name off-hand. Last time I was back there the place seems to have closed down, which is a shame.

    1. The pay-what-you-want restaurant in SLC is called One World Cafe, and I’m happy to report that it’s definitely still open! It’s on 3rd East between 1st and 2nd South. 

  8. Now if we are all going to be putting in plugs, The better world Cafe in Highland park NJ has been doing great, and great food with the same model. Its not just good food its really good Chefs teaching Chefs Good food.  Jon Bon Jovi and Dorthea have been helping those who need a helping hand for years.  Just good people.

  9. Right after I read this, I saw a piece in my local paper about Our Daily Bread in Sunnyvale, CA.  They’ve been operating for 28 years.  It sounds like they use some of the same concepts such as serving at tables and working in the kitchen.  

    Now its on my list of things to try out locally.  Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. My problem:  are we supposed to pay what we thought the meal was worth, or what we thought the restaurant would charge if it set its own prices?

    Because, I can’t help but feel pretty ripped-off when eating out.  I can’t help it! I look at my plate and think of the disparity between the menu price and what it would cost to make at home. I keep track of just how scant few minutes the server actually spends with me, and start reconsidering careers when I realize what hourly wage that works out to with the expected tip.

    A restaurant where I volunteer to pay what I think is fair for the meal sounds great, but I can’t tell if that’s what this is.

    1. From the story I saw, at Bon Jovi’s restaurant there is a$20 recommended donation, but it is up to the patron. Do what you feel is right for you.

    2. In some places (Napa Valley) at some times (2000-2001), a busboy could quickly become a waiter and make good money (lack of good staff), but in most places, hospitality doesn’t make many of it’s people rich, even if you own the place.

      It’s Not just the server, it’s the cook, the table-cleaners, the cleaners, the food, the location(!!), the utilities, the owners, etc.

      So you’re paying to Not have to cook yourself, to not have to have all of the ingredients on hand, to not have to buy and maintain all the required cooking gear, and to not have to clean up afterwards. I say this not as someone with a lot of experience in hospitality (apart from a few months as a delivery driver), but as someone with a lot of experience in making the choice between storing enough food and cooking gear in the limited space I have, and cleaning up afterwards, and going out for food.

  11. The sisters of the road cafe in Portland comes to mind. You can get a meal there for $1.25 (I think?) or help out in some way if you don’t have the money. They sell vouchers for $2/meal and I much prefer to hand those out whenever a person asks me for something on the sidewalk. They are a wonderful outfit.

    A present and long term goal of the Kitchen Team is to move towards environmental and social sustainability.  This vision is supported by a sourcing program that works directly with local farmers and ranchers to bring in the highest quality local ingredients.  Gleaning from a number of Portland area farmer’s markets has given us the ability to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables from organic farms.  We are developing relationships with Oregon ranchers to source antibiotic free, hormone free, and pasture raised beef. 

  12. The One World Everybody Eats Foundation promotes this business model and helps new outlets get started. There was one I read about in New Zealand (I believe) that housed refugees from another country and taught them the restaurant trade and aided them in gaining citizenship in addition to running on the “pay what you like” model. They took the philanthropy to a new level there.

  13. Do they tell you what the break-even point is for your meal?  I love the idea that I could go in, order something, and afterwards say “yeah that was delicious, $5 you say? Here’s $30, can the next five people to order that get it free?”

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