BON JOVI BRINGS ‘SOUL’ FOOD TO CHURCH

st-anthonySt. Anthony of Padua transforms into the Soul Kitchen on Friday nights, offering a community restaurant through a partnership with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

You can add restaurateur to the résumé of Jon Bon Jovi.

Through his non-profit JBJ Soul Foundation, the megapopstar musician has teamed with St. Anthony of Padua to open a “community restaurant” they call the Soul Kitchen to offer fine meals to the indigent. There are no prices posted. If you can afford to make a donation, they’ll take it. If not, then you volunteer at the restaurant to work off your fare.

Operating most Friday nights since November, the innovative eatery has gotten a “phenomenal response,” said Ed Markiewicz, who runs the church’s food pantry.

The foundation approached the church earlier last year to run the pilot program in Red Bank, and “as soon as we heard about it we thought it would be a great idea,” Markiewicz said.

The Soul Foundation is backing the operation with a grant, he said.

Markiewicz has about 80 volunteers who wait tables, help set up and cook the meals, which take place in the church gym. So far the restaurant has averaged about 75 people for the seven dinners held there. And he says it’s more than just a place to grab a bite.

“This is really more of a community restaurant than a soup kitchen,” he said. “It’s that type of experience where you’ll sit down with different people at different stations in life and hopefully learn something.”

Since it’s a pilot program, Markiewicz isn’t sure how long the restaurant will operate, but said he and the other volunteers will keep going as long as they can.

Though it’s a collaboration with Bon Jovi’s foundation, don’t expect to see the philanthropic rocker and owner of the defunct Philadelphia Soul arena football team taking orders and delivering food. Markiewicz hasn’t had any interaction with him since the idea took roots. Besides, the Middletown resident is going on tour next month in support of his new record.

Seating at the Soul Kitchen is by reservation only and is open most Friday nights. This week’s menu includes French onion soup, salad, beef stew and roasted chicken. To make a reservation, call 732-291-7232. Alcohol is not allowed.