Thursday, December 06, 2012

JBJ in Forbes Magazine

(September 7, 2012)

Jon Bon Jovi: Hungry To Help
This story appears in the September 24, 2012 issue of Forbes Life.

[Jon] Bon Jovi’s magnum opus is the Soul Kitchen, a “recommended donation” restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, launched last fall. The eatery’s core purpose, says Bon Jovi, is simple: to feed people in a dignified way that engenders self-respect. “We empower people by having them earn their meal working in the restaurant,” he says.

The suggested contribution for a mea—perhaps some Garden State gumbo, followed by cornmeal-crusted catfish—is $10. Those who can afford to pay more are encouraged to do so, while those who can’t are asked to bus tables, wash dishes, or volunteer to help other local causes.

Since its inception, the Soul Kitchen has doled out about 10,000 meals; a guest chef series with appearances by Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio has helped juice the restaurant’s profile. So have the efforts of the Soul Kitchen’s founder—according to a study by data firm General Sentiment, Bon Jovi generated $449,932 in publicity value for the restaurant last year.

“I’m certainly willing to leverage my celebrity,” he said during the philanthropy summit. “If it means I have to come and sing at your kid’s bar mitzvah, I’m very available. Whatever it takes.”

Bon Jovi wasn’t always quite so willing. Up until the turn of the millennium, he merely dabbled in philanthropic activities, from Covenant House to the Special Olympics. That changed on a wintry evening after a concert in 2005, when Bon Jovi peered out of his Philadelphia hotel room window and noticed a homeless man huddled against the side of a building. “I thought, now here’s something where we can affect change without a scientist to invent a cure.”

That same year, Bon Jovi hired former IRS agent Mimi Box to help start the Philadelphia Soul Foundation, initially in conjunction with the Arena Football League team of the same name, which Bon Jovi co-owned. One day shortly thereafter, Bon Jovi was walking through a dilapidated section of North Philadelphia with housing crusader Sister Mary Scullion, who suggested he fix up one of the houses. The rock star asked the nun how much it would cost to do the whole block—and eventually secured funding to restore 15 homes. After the Arena Football League suspended operations in 2009, he kept the charity going, rechristening it the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.

A few years later, Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, saw a Brian Williams segment that featured a community kitchen in Denver called the So All May Eat Café. This wasn’t a food pantry or a soup kitchen but a place where people could volunteer to work in exchange for a healthy meal. That eatery had been inspired by a similar establishment in Salt Lake City called One World Everybody Eats.

“The key element that Salt Lake and Denver stressed to us was that you needed to find a location where you had a very supportive population and one that was in need, too,” says Box. “You need to have the intersection.” The Bon Jovis found that near their old stomping grounds in New Jersey. After piloting the restaurant concept in a church and a soup kitchen, they settled on a decrepit garage in Red Bank, turning it into a working restaurant within a matter of months.

Next up: more Soul Kitchens, if all goes according to plan—something the old Bon Jovi might not have pursued. “That’s the difference between being a young man figuring out who you want to be and being a man who’s come of age who wants to leave a legacy of who he has been and who he will continue to be.”

Read the whole article here.

~ Hath


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