EARLY FEEDBACK: SOUL KITCHEN WORKS

jbj-soul-kitchen-101911Soul Kitchen as seen on opening day last month, hosted by Jon Bon Jovi, below. (Click to enlarge)

bon-jovi-101911Lots of glitz was on display last month when the JBJ Soul Kitchen, the new pay-what-you-can-or-volunteer restaurant, opened in Red Bank last month.

It wasn’t just the star power of pop star Jon Bon Jovi, whose foundation bankrolled the operation, but the swarm of New York media and even the superchic look given to the former auto repair shop by Red Bank architect Michael Malone.

It made some people wonder: would this turn out to be a restaurant for the haves only? Would those who need what Soul Kitchen was created to provide come out, too?

A volunteer at the Soul Kitchen, Christina Georgas, tells redbankgreen that they do. A bit reluctantly, on occasion, but they’re coming in.

“The great thing is that we have that long driveway out front, and sometimes we see them hesitating,” says Georgas, who works as a server. “So we go out and tell them, ‘Please, come on in.’ And they do.”

In an article published Monday on Philly.com, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer, food reporter Dianna Marder also reports that the concept is working.

From Marder’s piece:

The Soul Kitchen, centrally located in Red Bank’s hip Arts and Antiques district, is in a former auto-body shop that sparkles with glass bay doors, sunny yellow walls, black tables and chairs covered in butcher paper, and floor-to-ceiling shelves decorated with jars of honey, pickled peaches, grains, and gadgets.

The 25-seater has become a mecca, with guests waiting up to an hour to share a table with strangers, in keeping with the “community kitchen” concept.

“The response has been even better than we could have hoped for,” Bon Jovi wrote on the kitchen’s website.

So far, about 15 percent of patrons have paid with vouchers. The rest have paid in cash, which is what is needed if this restaurant is to stay afloat. Many are tourists making a side trip in the hopes of seeing Bon Jovi himself. But the musician has made a point of staying away, so as not to be disruptive.

Marder, quoting JBJ Soul Foundation executive director Mimi Box, also talks about how the kitchen grew out of the singer’s work in providing housing in Philadelphia and Camden:

This time Bon Jovi is watching television. He sees a news story on a community kitchen in Denver called SAME (so all may eat) and learns the idea came from Denise Cerreta of Salt Lake City, who started OWEE (one world, everybody eats).

“We visited Denise and saw her model and talked about what makes it work,” Box said.

“Every organization has to tweak the model to fit the needs of that community,” Box said. “Denise cautioned us that to make the project work, it has to be at the intersection of a population that could support the kitchen as well as a population in need.”

Red Bank scores on both counts. Its poverty rate, especially among 5- to 15-year-olds, is twice that of the rest of the state. So there are certainly sufficient individuals and families to welcome an opportunity to buy a meal in exchange for work.

But Red Bank is also home to artsy newcomers whose one-of-a-kind work draws shoppers from nearby moneyed towns. Colts Neck, eight miles away, is home to many of the country’s wealthiest 1 percent (and their horses).

A renovated train station with service to Manhattan and the Count Basie Theatre for Performing Arts is steps from the Soul Kitchen.

“When we’ve perfected the model here,” Box said, “we’d love to expand.”