February 2012; Source: World Ark (Heifer International)

Back in 2005, on its ninth studio album, the rock group Bon Jovi released a song called “Welcome to Wherever You Are.” Although Jon Bon Jovi told Larry King that he thought “for sure this was going be a timeless, universal theme song of unity and diversity,” it wasn’t a hit at all. Now, however, through the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, the group’s lead singer has opened a restaurant that captures the spirit of the song. Called The Soul Kitchen, it’s not your average celebrity restaurant.

The nonprofit Soul Kitchen is located on the site of a former auto body shop in Red Bank, N.J. that has been converted into a pay-what-you-can restaurant for the hungry and the whole community. There’s an herb and vegetable garden on site, linen cloths on the tables, and a formal policy to “sit with people you may not know.” The goal is both nourishment and community building, and according to the restaurant’s website, “Friendship is the Daily Special.” Like the Panera Bakery chain’s café project previously profiled by NPQ, the menu has no set prices. Those who cannot pay for their meal can volunteer at the restaurant or on other community projects.

Though the Soul Kitchen has only been open a few months, it has already established connections with the local Project Homeless Connect and the area high school’s culinary arts training program. Its sponsoring foundation has also been active since 2006 in a variety of other projects to address poverty and homelessness in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

Why aren’t stories like this on the front pages of celebrity news outlets? As recent NPQ newswire reports on Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga attest, there are many great examples of celebrities leveraging their popular status for the greater good. –Kathi Jaworski