Jon Bon Jovi
Magazine Feature

Inside Jon Bon Jovi's Fast-Growing Plan to Feed the Poor: 'We're on the Doorstep of Doing This on a Grand Scale'

Billboard’s Philanthropy Issue: Inside How the Music Industry Gives Back

About 10 hours after his band, Bon Jovi, finished a homecoming concert in Red Bank, N.J., Jon Bon Jovi stands in his home kitchen just a few miles away, impatiently waiting for a pan of water to boil. He has several fancy stainless-steel coffeemakers, but flame versus water seems to be his most direct path to getting a cup of tea. (“This is like I’m at a campfire,” he mutters at one point.)

Bon Jovi, 54, wears a T-shirt that reads “Belichick for President,” a nod to his friend, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Bon Jovi — whose band will release its new album, This House Is Not for Sale, on Nov. 4, and who will be honored as Legend of Live at the Billboard Touring Conference & Awards on Nov. 9 — is obsessed with football. He serves water in a vintage New York Giants tumbler, and he and his wife of 27 years, Dorothea (also 54), have a son, Jesse, 21, who plays cornerback for Notre Dame. (They also have a daughter, Stephanie, 23, and two other sons, Jacob, 14, and Romeo, 12.)

Football was a catalyst for the launch of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October. One night in 2004, when Bon Jovi owned the Philadelphia Soul franchise in the Arena Football League, he spotted a man sleeping on a sidewalk grate from the window of his room at the city’s Ritz-Carlton. “It was frigid outside,” recalls Bon Jovi. “I’m a big fan of American history books and I thought, ‘This isn’t what Ben and George and Jefferson were thinking.’ ”

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
Bill Clinton and Jon Bon Jovi at the 2016 Clinton Global Citizen Awards during the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting at Sheraton New York Times Square on Sept. 19, 2016 in New York City. 

Wanting to deepen his relationship with his team’s hometown, Bon Jovi connected with Sister Mary Scullion, an area nun dedicated to eradicating homelessness. She showed him a row house that needed rehabilitating; Bon Jovi suggested renovating the entire block. “I wasn’t playing big shot,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m going to put up a bunch, and I know how to get the rest.’” Even after Bon Jovi parted ways with the Philadelphia Soul following a league stoppage in 2009, the Soul Foundation continued, building 500 units of affordable housing nationwide. (In 2015, the group reported 14 staffers and more than 2,000 volunteers.)

In 2008, following the economic downturn, Bon Jovi and Dorothea saw an NBC Nightly News report about a for-profit restaurant giving away food. “Dorothea said, ‘I got this vision,’ ” he recalls. “And we never got off the couch; it became a meeting.” After stops in a church basement and a soup kitchen, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen found a home in a converted garage in Red Bank and has served more than 58,000 meals. The menu features farm-to-table salads and scratch-made entrees. A $20-per-person donation is suggested for a three-course meal. On any given night, roughly half of the patrons pay, while the other half earn their meals by cleaning outside the restaurant or washing dishes.

“It makes people feel good that they can go to a restaurant,” says chef Mario Batali, who has cooked at Soul Kitchen. “Everybody feels like part of a community. This is something that serves to feed not only somebody’s belly, but their dignity, their mind, their happiness.”

Bon Jovi says his interest in “things other than music” began in 1992, during the Clinton/Gore campaign. The Bon Jovi and Clinton families would later become close. President Bill Clinton attended the launch of the Soul Foundation, and in September the Clinton Global Initiative honored Bon Jovi. At home on his desk, Bon Jovi has a clipping of a Wonderword puzzle Clinton recently mailed him, in which he wrote in “Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation” as a solution.

“I loved when he opened Soul Kitchen,” says Clinton. “He’s got people from a whole spectrum of society meeting with folks that are homeless or make barely enough to properly feed themselves. Interesting things have come out of that — people have found jobs, have gotten in training programs.”

A second Soul Kitchen recently opened nearby in Toms River, N.J., as part of the BEAT (Bringing Everyone All Together) Center, which combines the restaurant with job training, a food pantry and other resources. “We’re at the precipice,” says Bon Jovi. “We can have 10 of these and it can be wonderful, or we can blow this thing up — we’re right on the doorstep of how to do this on a grand scale.” 

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This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.