Community dining with dignity: Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen reopens at Rutgers-Newark

Jersey star’s effort to fight food insecurity reopens location that was slowed by pandemic

JBJ Soul Kitchen, the restaurant started by Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, to help fight food insecurity, reopened its location on the campus of Rutgers University–Newark on Friday.

The restaurant, which is run through the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, opened its Rutgers-Newark location in January 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the state.

The location, which runs in partnership with Rutgers-Newark and campus food service provider, Gourmet Dining, is the third since the idea was launched in Red Bank 11 years ago and the first on a college campus.

Jon Bon Jovi said reopening the Rutgers-Newark 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.

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Since its inception in 2011, Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchens have served over 100,000 meals, reaching the goal of serving 51% of paying diners and 49% of diners in-need.

Their theme: Community dining with dignity.

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“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.

The eatery benefits greatly from donations and volunteers. On Friday, members of the Rutgers-Newark campus police, who volunteer weekly, served food and helped with clean up.

Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor said she was thrilled the eatery was able to reopen.

“We’ve been looking forward to this day,” she said.

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, Bon Jovi and his wife, 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.

Rutgers-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, Cantor said.

“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.”

Hend El-Buri, the pantry’s director, 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.

And a place to eat in a nice environment.

“We work hard to make sure that students who are experiencing food insecurity have a dignified experience,” 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,” he said.

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, D.C., for thousands of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and financial instability including youth and veterans. For more information, please visit

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, 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.