At 16, Jonathan Cheban’s automotive smelled of vinegar and oil, an aroma left over from his job as a Blimpie supply driver in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
At the moment, the notorious Kardashian bestie — some may say hanger on — who has legally modified his identify to Foodgod lives massive in multimillion greenback properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, drives luxurious vehicles and racks up astronomical restaurant payments — in spite of everything, his model promise is that he eats out 365 days a yr.
Nonetheless, after twenty years within the pop-cult highlight, a lot of the general public could possibly be forgiven for asking: How did this self-proclaimed culinary deity truly turn into — and keep — a lucrative influencer with greater than four million followers on Instagram and Twitter?
“There’s all the time that constructing course of, and I had random issues I’d collab and do,” Cheban, 47, instructed The Put up in an unique interview. “Once you don’t know, you don’t know.”
And “random” is correct. The Put up checked out LLCs, trademark registrations, monetary disclosures and archived press releases to search out out the place his cash comes from — and found that Foodgod has had a hand in a minimum of 59 companies over the previous twenty years, from vogue to well being to auto gross sales.
At the moment, he’s hawking his personal truffle ketchup and CBD snacks, however the merchandise he’s now producing stand on years of “buying and selling up” — from planning events for celebrities, to befriending celebrities, to changing into a star himself and capitalizing by endorsements, to lastly launching his personal firms.
However the bona fide businessman is prepared for his mogul second, regardless of haters who consider Kim Kardashian catapulted him into fame.
“I helped Kim alongside the best way — large time — however I created my very own id,” he mentioned. (Reps for Kardashian didn’t instantly reply to The Put up’s request for remark.)
Cheban walked The Put up by the journey that made a former teenage Blimpie supply driver into probably the most influential meals influencers on the planet, making an estimated $30,000 per 30 days on every social-media endorsement — and the teachings he discovered alongside the best way.
“I bought the bug”
Born in present-day Moldova (at the moment, a part of the united states), Foodgod grew up in Fort Lee and graduated from Lengthy Island’s Hofstra College in 1995.
From the start of his p.r. profession with famed publicist Penny Siegal, he lived and breathed the highlight — maybe higher than most celebrities. He studied and coached them on easy methods to be well-known. However quickly, they wanted him, he mentioned, and that’s how he turned associates with paparazzi magnets Paris Hilton, Kelly Osbourne, Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins.
By the flip of the century, he traded employment at a prime p.r. agency for an opportunity to create his personal hype home, Command PR, bringing tons of movie star contacts with him, together with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
“When you don’t play the sport — when you’re being tough and hiding from photos — it’s all going to go away so quick,” he instructed The Put up.
But it surely was by no means going to be sufficient for the soon-to-be Foodgod to prop up stars behind the scenes. The lifetime of consideration and glamour was calling to him from the second he started planning press occasions, he mentioned.
“I all the time liked once we did the premieres. The response to folks arriving is such a excessive for folks,” he mentioned. “I regarded round and noticed how comfortable folks had been, and it was so enjoyable. I assumed, ‘I’d like to be on the opposite aspect of that.’ … That’s my factor. I really like the entire red-carpet world. I bought the bug.”
Cheban met Kim Kardashian on the birthday celebration of mutual good friend Brittny Gastineau, the model-socialite daughter of former New York Jets defensive finish Mark Gastineau.
Quickly, his friendship with the Kardashians would propel him right into a profession of actuality tv. The Kardashian bestie joined the present throughout its third season in 2009 and has since been on 27 episodes of the E! present, plus 15 episodes of spinoff exhibits like “Kourtney and Kim Take Miami,” and has made different tv and film appearances, according to IMDB.
“There’s no method I used to be going to move up these alternatives,” he instructed The Put up.
His first “large time” solo appearances had been hit and miss: He starred in his personal actuality TV present “The Spin Crowd” about his p.r. agency, however it was canceled after one season. He bought his share in his press firm, Command PR, to his enterprise associate Simon Huck.
Alongside his “Spin Crowd” present, Cheban pitched the idea of a Actuality Café in 2010. His Las Vegas restaurant concept was to serve recipes made by actuality TV stars, like “Caroline Manzo’s meatballs.” However after making a splash within the information, the idea dropped out of the general public eye and by no means got here to fruition.
“At the moment, he didn’t notice the magnitude of beginning the cafe. After discussing, he realized it was an amazing endeavor for him at the moment of his profession,” a consultant instructed The Put up on his behalf.
Whereas “Spin Crowd” wasn’t the success producer Kim Kardashian hoped it will be, Cheban nonetheless had his huge Kardashian fan base: At its top in 2011, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” had 4.8 million viewers.
“Thank God actuality TV occurred. Oh my God, it gave me an opportunity,” he mentioned. “I assumed, ‘I should be on MTV, however I do not know how, working in p.r.’ To realize that way of life, you needed to be a musician or an actor [back then] — I’m neither,” he mentioned.
“What do I do?”
Cheban’s dad and mom had been each entrepreneurial sorts — his father was a diamond seller in New York Metropolis’s diamond district and his mom continues to be a Sotheby’s real-estate dealer — and it appears he inherited that entrepreneurial kick from them.
Early in his p.r. days, Cheban established a number of streams of earnings with vogue strains known as Kritik and Clarendon, simply by getting his movie star friends to advertise his entrepreneurial endeavors. His Kardashian connection fashioned the muse of Foodgod’s 44 endorsements thus far — preparations the place he was both paid by an organization (monetary disclosures of compensation vary from $10,000 to $30,000 a month) or acquired a small share of the corporate to turn into the face of a mission.
“You don’t need to do a present after which it’s accomplished and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t do something,’” he mentioned. “Please, you don’t perceive how briskly it goes. Earlier than you recognize it, you’re filming your final episode. Individuals bear in mind you a month, and you then’re accomplished.”
However in the present day, he says the endorsements signify a interval in his life earlier than he discovered his area of interest — and when he discovered his personal branding, it made endorsements an entire lot extra profitable.
“I wanted to search out my path,” he mentioned. “There’s a studying curve. All these companies had been over a 13-year interval of not realizing — what do I do?”
He promoted vodka, a vitamin vape, a line of spas and a cellphone display screen for ladies known as “Glam Display screen.” The businesses’ SEC filings recommend that he acquired shares within the firm for a number of of the endorsements.
“Most likely 200 followers had been lined up within the sizzling solar [in Coney Island] simply to satisfy him and purchase the Glam Display screen. We bought out the identical day [we opened],” mentioned David Borish, founding father of GlamScreen. “Our goal demographic match nicely into his fan base, which was principally the 15- to 25-year-old fan base of the Kardashians.” Borish declined to reveal his compensation association with Cheban.
Cheban owned an unknown proportion of RichRocks Jewellery along with his good friend Robin Rothfeld in 2011. The road was featured on “Good Morning America,” “The At the moment Present,” “The View” and on the necks and ears of Alicia Keys, Kristen Stewart, Kris Jenner and, after all, Kim Kardashian.
He additionally acquired over a 1% share of gossip publication Elite Every day in 2012 in change for selling the positioning — greater than quadruple the share they gave different companions. Elite Every day founder Gerard Adams mentioned they purchased again Cheban’s shares, including they “regretted” the partnership, in response to the Mixergy radio show.
“With Jonathan [Cheban], it was like, ‘We actually need to have the ability to get Kim Kardashian to share our content material. We actually need to have the ability to get in entrance of various celebrities that need to be ambassadors for Elite Every day and simply sharing our content material, you recognize. We ended up getting numerous his associates to share the content material,’” Elite Every day founder Gerard Adams instructed Mixergy radio show in 2017.
A number of the companies he partnered with, together with Elite Every day, are nonetheless in play. He has labored with jeweler-to-the-stars Richie Rich (not affiliated with RichRocks) for years, his specialty business card Foldz Flat continues to be promoting branded pens and his long-time sponsor Warren Henry Auto dealership in Florida continues to be promoting vehicles.
However some 90% of startups fail, according to Investopedia, so it’s no shock that a few of his partnerships evaporated. The chain of spas he endorsed abandoned its US expansion, and the weight-reduction plan behind Cheban’s meal replacements fell out of vogue.
RichRocks quietly disappeared off social media earlier than the pandemic, and its web site is now an Indonesian playing web site. But it surely seems his enterprise associate Robin Rothfeld has moved on, focusing on a new venture with her daughters, called Headbandz 4 Heroes.
Glam Display screen founder David Borish mentioned the enterprise ended “amicably” once they realized rivals had been ripping off their merchandise and will not be aggressive available in the market. However Borish is still creating new companies and products.
“It’s laborious to turn into well-known — and keep well-known — and never fall off the sting of the earth,” he instructed The Put up.
“They didn’t know what they had been doing, and I assumed they did”
Close to the tip of his time experimenting, he put his face on a couple of meals companies and his Instagram feed began trying like a unified mouth-watering meals model.
He endorsed Sushi MiKasa and Sushi Couture in the early 2010s, and he co-founded Burger Bandit in 2015 on Lengthy Island with Gene Broytman, who he bought the corporate to after a couple of years, according to Long Island local paper Newsday.
In October 2015, Cheban was credited with jump-starting the “Rainbow bagel” pattern after Brooklyn-based the Bagel Retailer gifted him with a couple of swirled, multicolored bagels.
“The cotton sweet bagel is the perfect factor I’ve EVER had!!” he wrote on Instagram.
The identify “Foodgod” first appeared in 2016 after Kim’s then-husband Kanye West coined the time period, as Foodgod tells it. He legally modified his identify to Foodgod in 2019 and prefers folks check with him as such — although a consultant instructed The Put up he wouldn’t thoughts being known as “Jonathan Cheban” when describing the historical past of his pre-Foodgod years.
Below the brand new moniker Foodgod, he joined Prepped Supply, a vacuum-sealed meal supply service he thought would deliver his experiences to common folks.
However in response to the truth TV star, whereas he got here up with the corporate’s identify and the emblem, he “didn’t make the precise offers” and solely owned a proportion of the corporate. He was “pressured out,” he mentioned.
“Prepped [Delivery] wasn’t mine. They introduced me in — folks I didn’t know. They bought the corporate, and I form of bought lower out of it,” he mentioned, noting he determined that to attain his dream, he’d must make one thing for himself. “Now it’s all gonna be me. Due to that precise occasion.”
The corporate has had different ventures since then, providing Keto meals, however the Prepped Supply portion of the enterprise is over. The trademark expired in 2018, and the model hasn’t made a peep on social media since January 2019.
“They didn’t know what they had been doing and I assumed they did,” he mentioned. The Put up tried to achieve present and previous executives on the firm however didn’t obtain a response.
“Eat or move????”
Simply over a decade after he first discovered fame on “KUWTK,” the aspect character with a couple of million followers would have double that variety of followers on Instagram and TikTok.
Foodgod constructed his meals empire on a model throughout YouTube, podcasts and social media where he highlights the wackiest, yummiest and most out-of-this-world meals. By discovering drool-worthy content material on a broadly liked matter, he has curated an enormous viewers — 6.2 million followers on TikTok and three.5 million followers on Instagram alone.
Final week, greater than 100,000 folks responded to a single Instagram story — considered by 4 occasions that many — in lower than 24 hours, he confirmed The Put up from his Instagram account.
His opinions are brash, excessive and large — identical to his character and the meals within the content material he curates. Nearly each publish on TikTok and Instagram comes with an motion assertion: “Tag somebody you’ll eat this with” or “Charge from 1 to 10” or “Would you eat this? Let me know!” or “Eat or move????”
“I placed on a present. That’s my factor,” he mentioned. “I all the time attempt to ship it humorous.”
Since 2017, he has been sponsored by Burger King, a sweet membership supply service, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Jersey Mike’s, Inconceivable Burger and Vodka Beluga. He even teamed up with Atari for cell video games “Meals Truck Frenzy” and a Foodgod-themed attraction in “Rollercoaster Tycoon.”
Nonetheless, it’s not hit after hit. In 2018, Foodgod partnered with BurgerIM, receiving $305,000 over a yr and a half for his endorsement, according to a legal document.
“HOLY BURGERS! I really like this spot @officialburgerim. WHO WILL SHARE THIS WITH ME?” he wrote on Instagram in typical Foodgod type.
However Foodgod severed ties with the burger chain when a report claimed that the enterprise was scamming 1,200 “academics, cooks, accountants [and] law enforcement officials” into paying franchise charges for companies the corporate had no plans to run, Page Six previously reported.
At the moment, the entrepreneur has a crew of individuals vetting enterprise pitches for him, led by his lawyer Steve Mandel, who helps facilitate his enterprise offers. The Put up tried to achieve Mandel, however a consultant mentioned he was unavailable.
“It’s a lot laborious work. Individuals don’t even perceive,” Foodgod instructed the Put up. “Flying throughout [the world] is exhausting. I’ve to construct a model after which work out easy methods to keep related.”
Way forward for Foodgod
Now, Foodgod is getting a second likelihood at meals supply service based mostly on cuisines he discovers in his travels and options on social media. The corporate, which has but to reveal its identify, will ship out meals with a menu based mostly on Foodgod’s travels with meals featured on his social-media accounts. Foodgod mentioned he’s at the moment creating the menu.
“We’re bringing the restaurant to you. It’s all impressed by superb issues that I’ve tried that different folks can’t get, from everywhere in the world. The whole lot can be impressed by issues like a dip from London which you could’t get right here,” he mentioned.
It additionally has a distinct enterprise technique, Foodgod mentioned, however declined to present any additional particulars.
“We’ve a CEO — somebody that runs it. We’re companions — it’s not a proportion [ownership] deal. They will’t push me out. These are studying curves,” he mentioned. “Now it’s an entire completely different story.”
That’s not the one new product he’s launching. He’s now recognized for his $20 Truffle Ketchup, which he launched in 2020, and the following spherical of merchandise is salad dressings. He additionally mentioned he has a line of CBD-infused snacks and desserts coming quickly.
After that, he needs to department into everyman’s-foods and frozen meals with “Foodgod vibes” like cacio e pepe (a easy cheese pasta with pepper) he mentioned.
“Some folks desire a $three,000 dinner in Ibiza; some need french fry pepperoni pizza. It’s not simply excessive finish — I need everybody to like my stuff,” he mentioned.
He’s nonetheless taking small percentages and sponsorship offers with firms like OceanBox, which delivers seafood, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit the place he’ll have a Foodgod merchandise this summer time, and Pure Inexperienced, a juice store the place he launched a blue banana milkshake on Could 5 and can launch a Foodgod pink ginger shot this summer time.
At the moment, his companions say they worth his excessive requirements and culinary experience — and the way hands-on he’s. Ross Franklin, CEO of Pure Green, mentioned Foodgod requested 5 revisions of the product, did a blind tasting and helped design product branding earlier than approving the Foodgod-branded drinks.
However his companions nonetheless don’t underestimate the worth of his social-media following and his movie star connections. Throughout the blind tasting in Miami, Paris Hilton walked into the store and tried Jonathan’s new drink, mentioned Franklin.
“I assumed it was a humorous coincidence,” he instructed The Put up. “All people is aware of him, so he can deliver them in.”