Finding the GOODS and Sharing Them
Would seeing Jon Bon Jovi (Yes, that Jon) in a restaurant kitchen, saddled with dishes, scrubbing a steady stream of strangers plates for all he’s worth defy your expectations? It should. He’s certainly not hurting for money; his group was the second highest earning band for 2010 (at over $125 million in revenue) and yet he and his wife Dorethea regularly work the floor in a small New Jersey restaurant. They do this labor of love because they stumbled onto a concept to help people that was so crazy, it might actually work.
Now, the revolutionary can be many things. In simplest terms (straight from the dictionary) it’s something radically new or innovative that falls outside of established procedure and principles. These ideas defy business as usual. Jon and Dorethea started with the belief that no one should have to go hungry and are now helping to draw attention to a radical (and fantastic) concept by opening a very special restaurant called the JBJ Soul Kitchen.
If you happen to visit Soul Kitchen, I’ve no doubt that you’ll realize that it isn’t your typical restaurant. This once defunct auto repair shop has gotten a facelift, complete with lipstick red paint that glosses its exterior to aesthetic rows of raised beds for fresh produce and a slick rain catchment system. But what really separates Soul Kitchen from the pack is the fact that it sits in the ranks of a small but growing list of eateries that go beyond trendy concepts into the realm of altruism. How? They have drop-kicked the concept of pricing and are making it work.
Don’t have any cash? No problem. That’s all part of the plan.
Instead of focusing on profits, these nonprofit restaurants and cafes are determined to honor the belief that everyone deserves a good meal. Even more, that people from all spheres of society should sit down and break bread together. Customers pay what they can and are only given a suggested price for menu items. It’s a special breed of guerrilla restauranteuring that called to Jon and his wife; in 2009 they saw a news clip about Denver, Colorado’s SAME Cafe (So All May Eat) and wanted to offer something similar in their own community.
It’s important to note that these nonprofit restaurants are not soup kitchens. They don’t just feed people, they provide good, wholesome meals in a restaurant environment, bringing all kinds of people together from all points in the economic ladder and they also provide a chance to experience a nice meal. It’s a welcome concept that anyone can identify with, especially in a time when a meal ‘out’ has become a luxury many families can’t afford anymore. Through the JBJ Foundation, the Jovi’s invested over $250,000 in the nonprofit JBJ restaurant (it shares its kitchen with Lunch Break Pantry, a soup kitchen/pantry) and are taking aim at hunger in Red Cliff.
Now, you might assume that this flexible payment system would lead to a lot of people paying pennies on the dollar for their meals but in practice what these unique eateries are finding is that there’s a lot more balance and generosity involved. Panera Bread has opened 3 “pay what you can” Panera Care’s Cafe locations and admit that there are those who pay less, but roughly 60% pay the suggested cost and about 20% actually pay more. It’s people helping people. Simple.
As for those who can’t afford to buy their food, they are asked to pitch in and help out. They can help with clean up, serving or work at the pantry. This way it’s a fair and dignified exchange which allows struggling families and individuals to give back to the very establishment that is helping them and others caught up in hard times. There are no free handouts, but there is a healthy dose of respect and kindness served with every meal.
Jon Bon Jovi had this to say about Soul Kitchen, “At a time when 1 in 5 households are living at or below the poverty level, and at a time when 1 out of 6 Americans are food insecure, this is a restaurant whose time has come. This is a place based on and built on community – by and for the community.”
It turns out that ‘pay what you can’ isn’t a new concept in food, but it’s one that is taking a little while to catch on. There are places like Soul Kitchen sprinkled across the nation (click here for a map of eateries). Denise Cerretta, of the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats, may be the first to successfully run a flexible payment restaurant. She started One World Café in 2003 in Salt Lake City and is the first to admit she didn’t have a clue what she was doing. Denise just believed to her core that she shouldn’t have to turn anyone away who wanted to eat.
After a lot of trial and error and a good deal of hard work she’s not only kept her business open, she’s also created a community cafe manual (the ‘Spirit in Business Guide‘) and helped several other “pay what you can” eateries (including JBJ Soul Kitchen) get off the ground all over the US.
It’s time for a food revolution and we need every tool we can to fight hunger. With a spokesperson like Jon Bon Jovi the ‘Pay What You Can’ community cafe model is certain to get a lot more attention. Who can argue against such a meaningful blend of function with humanity, let alone its ability to bring communities together (rock stars included) over a good meal? It’s just crazy enough to work.
If you know someone struggling with food insecurity here are a few resources that may help:
In Colorado: please take advantage of The Hunger Free Hotline -toll-free at (855) 855-4626 or in the Denver metro area at (720) 382-2920.
The National Hunger Clearinghouse and Hunger Hotline
Call 1-866-348-6479 (1-866-3-HUNGRY) or 1-877-842-6273 for Spanish (1-877-8-HAMBRE) if you need food assistance today.