When the longtime couple opened two locations of their volunteer-run Soul Kitchen in New Jersey, they wanted to create a community where diners pay if they can, a model that was Dorothea’s brainchild. “My wife does all the work,” Bon Jovi jokes in this week’s PEOPLE cover story. “And I get all the credit!”
Unlike at a standard soup kitchen, diners of all socioeconomic backgrounds sit together at communal tables, as the restaurant serves both paying customers and those in need.
“You got to imagine you would never go to a soup kitchen to eat, so you would never meet those people,” the restaurant’s general manager Lou Morreale says. “So here the community kitchen actually allows people to come and volunteer or come and enjoy a meal with the in-need. You meet them; they meet you. It’s more of a community feel.”
WATCH: Food with a Purpose: Inside Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen
All the ingredients used in the menu, which includes comfort food like pan-seared salmon, homemade jalapeno cornbread and spinach rice, are sourced within five miles. The couple, who met back in high school in New Jersey and have been together for 27 years, are involved in every detail. (“Everything. The color scheme, the look of the place, the shelving,” Bon Jovi says.) And despite its philanthropic mission, Soul Kitchen still feels like your favorite neighborhood restaurant.
“You’d never know what the purpose is here and that is the idea. That anyone would come here to dine,” Bon Jovi says. “You just get a great meal and then you’re also doing good.”
The communal dining set-up helps bring people together who might never have met.
“People are seated communally because we want people here to read each other. You never know who you’re sitting next to. You don’t know if its someone in need or if its someone who’s come to pay. That’s really not what this is about. What you’re going to find is so much in common with your neighbor,” Bon Jovi says. “Americans today are very guarded … When you’re at a restaurant, you’re kind of thinking you’re encroaching on my space, well here, there are no barriers. Everybody together. And, in turn, you strike up a conversation over food or fan, or whatever it may be. And you learn more about yourself.”
For more on how Jon Bon Jovi and his high school sweetheart wife Dorothea balance fame and family, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. Watch the full episode featuring Jon Bon Jovi at home, available now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.
“If you haven’t dined with us before, we ask you to buy a pay it forward card, unless you are, in fact, a volunteer, in which case we give you an opportunity to volunteer either before or after your meal,” Bon Jovi says. “There’s a trust system here. So we certainly don’t expect anyone to dine and dash.”
This isn’t the couple’s first philanthropic venture: Jon and Dorothea launched the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation together in 2006, which has built 500 affordable housing units. “We have been so blessed and so lucky,” says Dorothea. “To see people not be able to feed their families, it’s just not acceptable.”