The New Jersey school and Grammy Award-winning rock star joined forces to open the restaurant on campus in an effort to cater to students who face food insecurity. According to the university’s website, more than 75% of the 36,000 undergraduate students receive financial aid, in addition to the graduate students who also receive help from the school.
With the new eatery, those who can’t afford to pay for food will be able to get a fresh, three-course meal without having to worry about the check. That’s because servers at the Soul Kitchen won’t know whether patrons paid for their meals, which helps to de-stigmatize issues surrounding food insecurity.
On this Sunday’s episode of NBC Nightly News, Bon Jovi explains the logic behind opening the restaurant at Rutgers. “We opened our first Soul Kitchen ten years ago in Red Bank, New Jersey after Super Storm Sandy. And the second one on Toms River, because those were the people most impacted by it.”
“Now what we realize is that there were kids in colleges that were hungry,” he added. “And this was a — logical progression. And Rutgers really embraced the concept.”
“People had this romanticized version of the starving student. It’s not as romantic as we would like to think it is,” said Dorothea.
On Monday’s episode of TODAY, which aired even more footage from the interview, Bon Jovi added that the partnership was a no brainer. “We were approached by the food service provider here, and we had been aware of food insecurity on college campuses, and it was just a natural fit,” he said.
The Rutgers location of the Soul Kitchen will have students, faculty, staff and community members pay $12 or use a meal swipe to enter the establishment. They can also volunteer at the restaurant to earn meals, or even donate money on top of the cost of their own food in order to help cover the price of a meal for someone else.
At the other Soul Kitchen locations located in Red Bank and Toms River, diners of all socioeconomic backgrounds sit together at communal tables, as the restaurant serves both paying and non-paying customers. The communal dining set-up is said to help bring together people who might never have met otherwise.
The new location will aim to create these connections between Rutgers students and the surrounding community, and different options for students, including vegan, gluten-free, halal and kosher food, which will help bring in students from many different backgrounds.
JBJ Soul Kitchen will also expand upon the school’s existing food pantry, which is adjacent to the restaurant. According to Cantor, last semester alone, the pantry served 30 tons of food.
Nightly News airs on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC.