Rock star and Jersey icon Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea yesterday helped celebrate the grand reopening of JBJ Soul Kitchen, which fights food insecurity on the Rutgers University–Newark campus through donations and volunteer service.
In partnership with Rutgers-Newark (RU-N) and campus food service provider Gourmet Dining, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation opened a restaurant at RU-N in January of 2020, its third since establishing JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank 11 years ago and the first on a college campus. But until this semester, the RU-N site hasn’t been fully operational since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day,’’ declared Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.
JBJ Soul Kitchen guests sat down to a three-course meal at the restaurant, located at the Paul Robeson Campus Center. As food was served, Jon Bon Jovi and Dorothea Bongiovi, who uses her husband’s given surname, toured pantryRUN, the campus food pantry, which is connected to the restaurant and shares the same mission as JBJ Soul Kitchen.
“We work hard to make sure that students who are experiencing food insecurity have a dignified experience,’’ said Hend El-Buri, the pantry’s director.
Jon Bon Jovi said re-opening the RU-N eatery fills an important need.
“Food insecurity is one of the most critical issues college students face today,” he said. “We applaud Gourmet Dining and Rutgers University-Newark, who have made tackling this issue a priority so that students always have a place to go for a great-tasting, healthy meal. We couldn’t have found a better place to open our third location and truly believe that when students are supported with basic needs and backed by their community, they can and will go on to do amazing things.”
JBJ Soul Kitchen operates by serving healthy, chef-prepared meals to students, faculty and community members who have the ability to pay, in addition to those in need.
Diners are invited to pay-it-forward by making a minimum donation of $12 or using a donated meal plan “swipe.’’ They may also volunteer their time by participating in activities around the restaurant or in other campus dining locations to cover the cost of a meal. Yesterday, members of the RU-N campus police, who volunteer weekly, served food and helped with clean up.
Rutgers University-Newark has long been at the forefront of addressing the issue of student food insecurity and has taken a comprehensive approach, opening the food pantry, organizing a care team and working with student organizations dedicated to fighting hunger on campus. Reintroducing JBJ Soul Kitchen provides even greater opportunities for the community to educate and assist one another, said Cantor.
“This is an amazing partnership and central to our values,’’ she said. “That the Bon Jovis chose to open JBJ Soul Kitchen here validates who we are and how important it is to be engaged with students, staff and the community. And the restaurant’s relationship with the food pantry is a great synergy.’’
El-Buri said JBJ Soul Kitchen is a valuable option for pantry visitors who may not cook and those who have a more immediate need. “We tell them, here’s a place where you can get food right now,’’ she said.
Rutgers-Newark Provost Jeffrey Robinson praised the restaurant’s concept and execution. “It’s a fantastic example of social entrepreneurship in action, when you build a restaurant that is meeting a social need, you demonstrate the power of a double bottom line.’’
Photo caption: Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, pose with Rutgers Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor and the staff of pantryRUN, the campus food pantry.
About Rutgers University–Newark
Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) is a diverse, urban, public research university that is an anchor institution in New Jersey’s cultural capital. It has a remarkable legacy of producing high-impact scholarship that is connected to the great questions and challenges of our time. Rutgers-Newark is in and of a city and region where its work on local issues, undertaken with partners from many sectors, resonates powerfully throughout our urbanizing world.
About JBJ Foundation/Soul Kitchen
Since 2006, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation has worked to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through developing partnerships, creating programs and providing grant funding to support innovative community benefit organizations. The JBJ Soul Foundation, in partnership with local community organizations, has helped provide funding for over 700 units of affordable housing and shelter in 11 states and Washington DC for thousands of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and financial instability including youth and veterans. For more information, please visit jbjsf.org.
The Foundation expanded its mission in 2011 to address issues of food insecurity and currently operates two JBJ Soul Kitchen community restaurants in Red Bank and Toms River, NJ, in addition to the JBJ Soul Kitchen at Rutgers University – Newark.
Since its inception, the Kitchens have served over 100,000 meals, reaching the goal of serving 51% of paying diners and 49% of diners’ in-need. For more information, please visit jbjsoulkitchen.org.
About Gourmet Dining
As New Jersey’s largest regional dining service company, Gourmet Dining manages on-site foodservice operations for a variety of educational, corporate, healthcare and long-term care clients throughout the state. With more than 2,500 employees, Gourmet Dining has built its reputation on creating innovative, custom-designed programs that continually meet and exceed the evolving needs of clients by serving delicious meals every day. For more information, please visit https://gourmetdining.co/.