At Rutgers University–Newark, where more than half of all students have exceptional financial need, no one needs to worry about going hungry.
In partnership with campus dining provider Gourmet Dining LLC, Jon Bon Jovi’s conscious eatery concept JBJ Soul Kitchen opens Thursday to feed students irrespective of their ability to pay for the food.
At JBJ Soul Kitchen Rutgers Newark, customers come in, sit down, and are served a three-course meal, but not everyone pays the same way: Paying customers pay $12 for their own meal, and any additional money goes to pay for the meal of someone who needs it. Those who can’t pay can also do service as a form of payment, volunteering at the restaurant.
This is JBJ Soul Kitchen’s first college campus location. JBJ Soul Kitchen co-founder Dorothea Bongiovi called the opening “humbling and a little overwhelming.”
“Recognizing that food insecurity is a critical issue facing many college students like the students here at Rutgers Newark when Gourmet Dining came to us a year ago with the idea of opening a Soul Kitchen, we jumped at the chance,” she said.
JBJ Soul Kitchen’s other locations, which together have served more than 100,000 meals, are located in Red Bank and Toms River.
Rutgers–Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor called the introduction of JBJ Soul Kitchen to Rutgers Newark “an amazing moment” and highlighted Newark, Rutgers–Newark, and New Jersey as a place people come to find opportunity, and to work as hard as they can to find it.
JBJ Soul Kitchen isn’t Rutgers Newark’s first recognition of and remedy for food insecurity. The food pantry on campus has served 30 tons of food over 3,300 visits since opening in spring 2017.
“Our students know this isn’t a stigma, this is an empowerment,” Cantor said of JBJ Soul Kitchen. “This is a recognition of what it means to be a first-generation student, to be a lower-income student, what it means to come on an unusual path to higher education, and what it means to know, with the food in your stomach and the striving in your heart and brain, you will make a difference in the world.”
Bongiovi, accompanied by her husband and co-founder Jon Bon Jovi, said that although JBJ Soul Kitchen doesn’t fully solve the food insecurity issue, it can help bring attention to it.
“We hope to have an impact on the community, but in reality, we’re never gonna cure hunger with Soul Kitchen or help cure homelessness with bandaids,” she said. “But these are some things we can do, and we can shine a light on these issues, because many people said to us, ‘I didn’t know college students were hungry.’”
Gourmet Dining President Michael Frungillo said for JBJ Soul Kitchen Rutgers Newark’s mission to be successful, people from the greater Newark community coming in as paying diners will make a huge difference.
“I know we have 100 volunteers, but we also need 100 diners,” he said.
Students and community members can come in for lunch, with halal and kosher options available, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
JBJ Soul Kitchen is located at the Paul Robeson Campus Center at 350 Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd. in Newark.s