WILL WORK FOR FOOD. Dinner with Dignity at Innovative Restaurants

WILL WORK FOR FOOD. Dinner with Dignity at Innovative Restaurants May 25, 2012

A man’s gotta eat, right?

In an economic downturn, that’s sometimes difficult.  Some people who are willing to work find that there are no jobs available.  Stepping in to help put food on the table are a plethora of community food banks, soup kitchens, government assistance programs, and charitable assistance programs.

But this week the spotlight has been turned on another type of food program:  the community kitchen.

That’s because rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea have opened a new upscale restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey.  Called Soul Kitchen, the trendy restaurant in Monmouth County features produce from the restaurant’s own garden.  What makes Soul Kitchen different, though, is that at the end of the meal there is no check.  With Soul Kitchen’s “flexible payment model” each customer pays as he or she is able:  Some will pay the suggested offering of $10, others will give more to cover the cost of their own gourmet meal plus another person’s.  Those who are unable to pay in dollars can instead volunteer in any of a number of neighborhood projects.

The food is good; but filling the belly is just one objective of Soul Kitchen.  Equally important are the interactions of clientele, as affluent diners sit alongside those of meager means.  Mimi Box, executive director of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, explains, “Building relationships has to start somewhere.”

And the need is great, even in the exclusive New Jersey community.  According to Linda Keenan, acting executive director of the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, “Hunger is everywhere.”

Community Kitchens Make Their Mark Around the Country.  

Bon Jovi is not the first philanthropist to combat hunger with culinary excellence.  The restaurant is operated according to principles laid out at A Better World Café, a community kitchen in nearby Highland Park, New Jersey.  A Better World Café, which opened for business in October 2009, offers a healthy lunch five days a week and hopes to expand to serve dinner and weekend meals soon.  At A Better World Café, customers choose their own portion sizes—thus reducing food waste.  No disposable cups, utensils or plates are used—thus reducing trash.  Coffees and teas are all fairly traded; and the program emphasizes seasonal foods, thereby reducing costs and environmental impact.

The partners in A Better World Café—two local nonprofits, Elijah’s Promise and Who Is My Neighbor? Inc.—turned for their inspiration to yet another community café model, One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City,Utah.

And another community kitchen which stirred interests on the part of Bon Jovi was the SAME Café in Denver, Colorado.  The SAME Café (the acronym stands for “So All May Eat”) has replaced the cash register with a donation box.  Patrons are asked to leave what they feel their meal was worth, or even a little more to help another person in need.  Persons who cannot pay may still enjoy a meal, but they are encouraged to offer an hour of volunteer service.  The philosophy of the SAME Café is that everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity.

For more information on the community kitchen concept, visit the websites of the Soul Kitchen, A Better World Café, One World Everybody Eats, and the SAME Café.

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