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OTRC: Jon Bon Jovi opens Soul Kitchen 'pay-what-you-can' restaurant

Rock star Jon Bon Jovi sits in the Soul Kitchen restaurant in Red Bank, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, during the opening of the restaurant which is designed to help the hungry without the stigma of a soup kitchen. Diners pay whatever they're able to. (Mel Evans)

Jon Bon Jovi has continued his charitable actions with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, opening The Soul Kitchen, a "pay-what-you-can" restaurant.

The Soul Kitchen, which celebrated its grand opening on Wednesday, is located in a former body shop near the Red Bank train station in central New Jersey. The restaurant will provide gourmet-quality meals to the hungry and enable them to volunteer on community projects. Paying customers are encouraged to leave what they can in envelopes on the table, though the menus do not list prices.

"With the economic downturn, one of the things I noticed was that disposable income was one of the first things that went," Bon Jovi told The Associated Press on October 19. "Dining out, the family going out to a restaurant, mom not having to cook, dad not having to clean up - a lot of memories were made around restaurant tables... When I learned that one in six people in this country goes to bed hungry, I thought this was the next phase of the Foundation's work."

Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea Bongiovi (which is the legal spelling of her husband's name) started helping a local food pantry several years ago and then helped with their Lunch Break program, which feeds up to 120 people a day.

"This is not a soup kitchen," Bon Jovi told the wire service. "You can come here with the dignity of linens and silver, and you're served a healthy, nutritious meal. This is not burgers and fries. There's no prices on our menu, so if you want to come and you want to make a difference, leave a $20 in the envelope on the table. If you can't afford to eat, you can bus tables, you can wait tables, you can work in the kitchen as a dishwasher or sous chef."

A year and $250,000 after coming up with the idea for Soul Kitchen, the restaurant opened its doors on Wednesday. Menu items include cornmeal-crusted catfish with red beans and rice, grilled chicken breast with homemade basil mayo and rice pilaf, and grilled salmon with soul seasonings, sweet potato mash and sautéed greens, many of which come from the restaurant's adjoining herb and vegetable garden.

"If you come in and say, 'I'm hungry,' we'll feed you," Bon Jovi continued. "But we're going to need you to do something. It's very important to what we're trying to achieve... This is about empowering people."

Bon Jovi is active in the restaurant, working at least once a week in recent months. The Soul Kitchen is open for dinner Thursday through Saturday, and offers Sunday brunch.

Bon Jovi, a New Jersey native, has built 260 homes for low-income residents through his Soul Foundation. In April, he also opened The Covenant House Rights of Passage homeless shelter in Philadelphia.

Bon Jovi is a longtime advocate for homeless causes and used to be an owner of the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League. The singer's band, Bon Jovi, recently completed a world tour.

Bon Jovi also told the Associated Press that he is currently writing songs for his bands next album, which is slated for release in 2013. Bon Jovi rose to fame in the 1980s and is known for hits such as "Livin' on a Prayer," "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Always."

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