Jaden Smith has quietly emerged as a different kind of Hollywood royalty: A second-generation star who seems genuinely committed to helping other people. In a celebrity culture obsessed with relationship gossip and bad behavior, news of Smith's plans to open a restaurant providing free food to the homeless is downright shocking.
The news comes from Variety, which reported that Smith — onetime Karate Kid, musician and son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith —is planning to open up a brick-and-mortar version of his I Love You food truck program. Launched in 2019 on the star’s 21st birthday, the trucks provide free, fresh vegan bowls to the residents of LA’s Skid Row, a massive section of downtown LA and the epicenter of the city’s growing homeless crisis.
"The @ILoveYouRestaurant Is A Movement That Is All About Giving People What They Deserve, Healthy, Vegan Food For Free," Smith wrote on his Instagram at the time of launch, employing his trademark capitalization. Now, the young philanthropist is expanding his vision.
A restaurant with a “pay it forward” mentality
While details on the restaurant are currently sparse, Smith told Variety that the restaurant will offer free meals to the homeless, while housed patrons will be charged extra in order to offset costs.
“… If you’re not homeless, not only do you have to pay, but you have to pay for more than the food’s worth so that you can pay for the person behind you,” he told the publication.
The model is a bit like a brick-and-mortar version of the “pay if forward” trend at drive-thrus, in which a patron pays for the order of the person behind them.
And while it may seem like a revolutionary idea, there is some real-world precedent: US restaurant chain Panera launched its Panera Cares restaurants in 2010, with nine locations in cities like Portland, Oregon, Boston, and Chicago offering patrons a “pay what you can” menu under the assumption that the cost of food for those in need would be offset by patrons compelled to pay above the listed menu price to cover cost.
The program lasted about nine years, with its Boston location shuttering in 2019, thus ending the program.
Smith’s project shares some DNA with the Panera program, including its core philosophy and faith in others to keep it afloat. But with its smaller scale and celebrity backbone, its fate could prove very different, especially with support already high for Smith’s pop up food trucks.
Smith's efforts go beyond the culinary world. During the pandemic, he pivoted his food-truck project to provide sanitizer, masks and clothing to the citizens of Skid Row, according to Complex. Additionally, the actor has been active with The Water Box, a filtration system that provides free, clean water to areas without ready access to the resource, including Flint, Michigan, which has been in the throes of a drinking-water crisis for more than a decade.
No opening date or location has been announced for the I Love You restaurant.