Moomah the Magazine
Soul Kitchen

Soul Kitchen

- by Rachel Filler

With so many Americans going hungry every day, it is both refreshing and inspiring to see those who have the ability to make a difference, do just that. The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation works to “combat issues that force families and individuals into economic despair… and support innovative community efforts to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.” 

One amazing community project run by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, and Jon and Dorothea Bongiovi themselves, is Soul Kitchen – a community restaurant where individuals can come and enjoy warm and nutritious meals with their neighbors.

The menu at the restaurant has no prices. As a customer, you select what you would like and make a donation for your meal. If you cannot afford to donate, you can volunteer your time either through a job at Soul Kitchen or at the Food Bank. Those who volunteer can bus tables, set tables with dishes, waiter or waitress, clean and stock items, etc. When possible, paying customers are asked to pay more than the suggested donation to help offset the costs of those volunteering.

Though similar to a soup kitchen, the difference with this
community run project is that all patrons - whether they are able to donate money for their meals or choose to volunteer in exchange for a meal - are given the dignity of sitting at a table with linen and silverware, and being served a nutritious meal. 

What makes these meals so nutritious? Our very own contributor, Wendy Weiner, had a role to play in ensuring that the ingredients used in the kitchen are fresh, organic and straight from garden to kitchen… literally.

Wendy's business, The Front Yard Farmer, designs, builds, plants and nurtures organic vegetable gardens on properties, teaching people the skills needed to make home gardening a success.

"With the changes we are seeing in the world, fresh food is no longer a commodity to be taken for granted," says Wendy. "Between the chemical inputs of large factory farms, lengthy transportation and huge carbon output, our food comes at a great price. One that is not always apparent. The time is right for you to grow your gardening skills and have a relationship with your food, possibly right in your own front yard."

We caught up with Wendy, who helped us to learn a little bit more about the Soul Kitchen gardens, the types of flowers and vegetables they planted, and what her work with Soul Kitchen means to her.


How did you get involved with Soul Kitchen?

When I read that Dorothea Bongiovi was planning to open the Soul Kitchen, I called immediately to let her know that I wanted to create the garden. The idea that everyone, no matter what your place in life, is entitled to sit for a meal with dignity, even if one is needy, is what drew me to this project. Come to have dinner, pay what you can, or if you don't have the money, pay with your time. 

How did you decide what type of garden would work best for a community restaurant?

The restaurant was a converted body shop with a parking lot in front of the garage. We built raised bed boxes that are 3” high.  Pea gravel pathways surround the beds.  You literally have to walk through the garden to enter the restaurant. It's very charming and engaging.  We wanted people to make the connection of where their food comes from, and with gardens in front you
can't help but notice it all.



The restaurant didn't open until October in its first year, but the actual garden was first planted at the end of July. It was a tricky time to be starting a garden: I wanted lots of color and texture so it would be very striking when you entered the restaurant. I planted a lot of colorful greens and herbs, which were also popular with the population being served. Along either border we planted raspberries, figs, and cherries.


What is the most popular ingredient used in the kitchen from the garden?

The herbs are always in garnish, salad dressings and main dishes.  Typical summer veggies like salad greens, tomatoes and peppers are always popular. We also have a lot of flowers, first for the beneficial insects, as well as for aesthetic appeal.  The customers are always intrigued by the anise hyssop which attracts a lot of butterflies and has a licorice smell and taste.

What are the benefits of growing a personal garden for use in a restaurant?

The many benefits from growing your own food include freshness, choices, and availability. You have a connection with your food; a greater understanding of what efforts goes into growing.  One of the most special things about having a palette of vegetables in your garden is that you can create a menu from what is ready at the time. This keeps you connected to the season with availability. For instance, a few weeks ago at my home, all our meals had some asparagus. Now that's over and we are gorging on peas, and so it goes.  But there is always a delicious overlapping of crops with mainstays included.

Organic vs. Store Bought?

Growing organic is the only option as far as I'm concerned. I would rather sacrifice something to insects or disease than to use chemicals in my garden. I try to plant enough of any given crop so if there is a problem, at least I'll get something. 


What is your role in the Soul Kitchen today?

I originally put the garden in two years ago. Now I only consult on the gardens, I no longer work on them. The garden was designed to be run by the volunteers as part of the deal for volunteering at the restaurant. We designed it to be low maintenance and to be easily accessible.  Zeet, the head chef and manager of Soul Kitchen, runs the garden now, with his team helping to teach volunteers how to work in the garden and look after it. 

PHOTO CREDIT: John Sokolowski.



Posted in: Make A Difference   

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Recent Comments

zeet peabody said…

  nice article and great photos ....  Wendy is the bomb ....a great source of inspiration and information….the Soul Gardens are the open heart of the Kitchen and everyday someone is enchanted by their power   thank you   Zeet Peabody   Chef Soul Kitchen

  - Thanks, Zeet! Glad you like the article and more importantly, thank YOU for your work at Soul Kitchen!

shannon said…

The concept of Soul Kitchen is so inspiring. Congrats to everyone involved with the project, esp. Wendy with her lovely garden!

Ashley Mahlabe said…

Big BIG Ups to Jon Bon Jovi…grew up in SA listening to Bon Jovi’s music though it was not liked by a lot of my friends at school bacause it was looked at as heavy metal but I still liked them but never thought I’ll see what they really are, and seeing this, is just amazing. May You Be Blessed for this wonderful work you doing. You Are My Heroes.

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