After discovering it, blogging about it, and sharing about it in my lectures and workshops for 8 months, I finally got to experience Soul Kitchen. Last week, I was in New York City and decided to visit Soul Kitchen with my friend Dan, who had heard about Soul Kitchen through me in the class.
We drove to Red Bank, NJ and found the restaurant on a quiet street. The building used to be an auto body shop. There were vegetables and herbs growing in a raised bed garden in front, ready to be harvested by the chef. Looking through large glass windows, we could see the restaurant was full. About five or six people were waiting outside. Two women greeted us with smiles and inquired whether we knew anything about the restaurant. We explained we heard about it and wanted to find out more. The woman who volunteered as the hostess informed me that her husband and daughter were also volunteering today as a waiter and kitchen helper. She said her whole family came here once a week to support this wonderful establishment. She then explained to me that there are only 4 paid workers in the restaurant: Ryan the manager, the chef and his 2 assistants. The rest of the workers, I counted at least 8 people, many in their 20s, were all volunteers. I was now even more intrigued.
As a table opened up, we were escorted into the restaurant with 3 other patrons and we sat together in one round table. The room was bright, clean and beautifully decorated. Painted on the far wall of the restaurant was the manifesto of Soul Kitchen which concluded “At Soul Kitchen the main ingredient is Love, with a large helping of you.”
Just like what was written on the wall, the waiters were happy and friendly and the menu had no prices. We introduced ourselves to each other at the table and began a wonderful conversation finding out more about each person’s stories. When the food came, Dan proposed that we prayed together and we held hands and gave thanks for this time and place, for fellowship and food. The food was delicious and the conversation continued.
At the end of the meal, a folder with instructions was handed to each one of us. Inside it said, “Customers pay the minimum donation or volunteer in some way to earn a voucher for a meal. Some customers do both! Please speak with your hostess to discuss volunteer opportunities. The suggested donation of $10.00 covers the cost of an adult meal, anything more helps defray the cost of someone else’s meal.”
Dan and I both paid $20 each. The man sitting next to us filled out the form to volunteer. I went to talk to Ryan the manager, another friendly and happy man. He seemed like a person who was looking forward to and excited about coming to work each day. He reiterated that the restaurant had only been opened for eight months and people with money and people without were both finding this place. He told me that the restaurant was almost self-sustaining just from patrons’ donations. He also said that he was writing down how this whole operation worked once it was up and running and sustainable.
I told him about Holy Currencies, the book I just finished writing, and GracEconomics, the word I invented to describe just the kind of social business that Soul Kitchen is. Ryan immediately got the concept and how the different currencies – relationship, truth, wellness, money, gracious leadership, time and place - flow through the operation of Soul Kitchen. During our conversations, we were interrupted 3 times by patrons who wanted to pay and volunteer. At the end of the conversation, I promised to send him a copy of the book Holy Currencies when it is in print and he promised to stay in touch to explore possibilities of future collaborations with the Kaleidoscope Institute in spreading GracEconomics.
Reflection Questions for Proper 13 (Year B)
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
Upcoming Opportunities to Study with The Sustainist:
Holy Currencies: Creating Sustainable Missional Ministries
Rainbow Lodge Retreat Center, North Bend (near Seattle), WA
Register at: www.kscopeinstitute.org