At 16, Jonathan Cheban’s automobile smelled of vinegar and oil, an aroma left over from his job as a Blimpie supply driver in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Today, the notorious Kardashian bestie — some may say hanger on — who has legally modified his identify to Foodgod lives giant in multimillion greenback properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, owns two luxurious vehicles and racks up astronomical restaurant payments — in any case, his model promise is that he eats out twelve months a yr.
Still, after 20 years within the pop-cult highlight, a lot of the general public may very well be forgiven for asking: How did this self-proclaimed culinary deity really grow to be — and keep — a lucrative influencer with greater than 4 million followers on Instagram and Twitter?
“There’s always that building process, and I had random things I would collab and do,” Cheban, 47, advised The Post in an unique interview. “When you don’t know, you don’t know.”
And “random” is correct. The Post checked out LLCs, trademark registrations, monetary disclosures and archived press releases to discover out the place his cash comes from — and found that Foodgod has had a hand in not less than 59 companies over the previous 20 years, from trend to well being to auto gross sales.
Today, he’s hawking his personal truffle ketchup and CBD snacks, however the merchandise he’s now producing stand on years of “trading up” — from planning events for celebrities, to befriending celebrities, to turning into a celeb himself and capitalizing by way of endorsements, to lastly launching his personal firms.
But the bona fide businessman is prepared for his mogul second, regardless of haters who consider Kim Kardashian catapulted him into fame.
“I helped Kim along the way — big time — but I created my own identity,” he stated. (Reps for Kardashian didn’t instantly reply to The Post’s request for remark.)
Cheban walked The Post by way of the journey that made a former teenage Blimpie supply driver into one of the 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 way in which.
“I got the bug”
Born in present-day Moldova (at the moment, a part of the USSR), Foodgod grew up in Fort Lee and graduated from Long Island’s Hofstra University 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 how to be well-known. But quickly, they wanted him, he stated, and that’s how he grew to become buddies 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 celeb contacts with him, together with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
“If you don’t play the game — if you’re being difficult and hiding from pictures — it’s all going to go away so fast,” he advised The Post.
But it 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 stated.
“I always loved when we did the premieres. The reaction to people arriving is such a high for people,” he stated. “I looked around and saw how happy people were, and it was so fun. I thought, ‘I’d love to be on the other side of that.’ … That’s my thing. I love the whole red-carpet world. I got 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.
Soon, 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 way I was going to pass up those opportunities,” he advised The Post.
His first “big time” solo appearances have been hit and miss: He starred in his personal actuality TV present “The Spin Crowd” about his p.r. agency, but it surely 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 Reality Café in 2010. His Las Vegas restaurant concept was to serve recipes made by actuality TV stars, like “Caroline Manzo’s meatballs.” But 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 that time, he didn’t realize the magnitude of starting the cafe. After discussing, he realized it was an overwhelming endeavor for him at that time of his career,” a consultant advised The Post on his behalf.
While “Spin Crowd” wasn’t the success producer Kim Kardashian hoped it might 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 reality TV happened. Oh my God, it gave me a chance,” he stated. “I thought, ‘I need to be on MTV, but I have no idea how, working in p.r.’ To achieve that lifestyle, you had to be a musician or an actor [back then] — I’m neither,” he stated.
“What do I do?”
Cheban’s dad and mom have been each entrepreneurial sorts — his father was a diamond seller in New York City’s diamond district and his mom remains 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 revenue with trend traces referred to as Kritik and Clarendon, simply by getting his celeb friends to promote his entrepreneurial endeavors. His Kardashian connection shaped the inspiration of Foodgod’s 44 endorsements to date — preparations the place he was both paid by an organization (monetary disclosures of compensation vary from $10,000 to $30,000 a month) or obtained a small share of the corporate to grow to be the face of a venture.
“You don’t want to do a show and then it’s done and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t do anything,’” he stated. “Please, you don’t understand how fast it goes. Before you know it, you’re filming your last episode. People remember you a month, and then you’re done.”
But immediately, 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 lucrative.
“I needed to find my direction,” he stated. “There’s a learning curve. All those businesses were over a 13-year period of not knowing — what do I do?”
He promoted vodka, a vitamin vape, a line of spas and a cellphone display for ladies referred to as “Glam Screen.” The firms’ SEC filings counsel that he obtained shares within the firm for a number of of the endorsements.
“Probably 200 fans were lined up in the hot sun [in Coney Island] just to meet him and buy the Glam Screen. We sold out the same day [we opened],” stated David Borish, founding father of GlamScreen. “Our target demographic fit well into his fan base, which was basically the 15- to 25-year-old fan base of the Kardashians.” Borish declined to disclose his compensation association with Cheban.
Cheban owned an unknown proportion of RichRocks Jewelry along with his good friend Robin Rothfeld in 2011. The line was featured on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “The View” and on the necks and ears of Alicia Keys, Kristen Stewart, Kris Jenner and, in fact, Kim Kardashian.
He additionally obtained over a 1% share of gossip publication Elite Daily in 2012 in change for selling the location — greater than quadruple the share they gave different companions. Elite Daily founder Gerard Adams stated they purchased again Cheban’s shares, including they “regretted” the partnership, in accordance to the Mixergy radio show.
“With Jonathan [Cheban], it was like, ‘We really want to be able to get Kim Kardashian to share our content. We really want to be able to get in front of different celebrities that want to be ambassadors for Elite Daily and just sharing our content, you know. We ended up getting a lot of his friends to share the content,’” Elite Daily founder Gerard Adams advised Mixergy radio show in 2017.
Some of the companies he partnered with, together with Elite Daily, 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 remains to be promoting branded pens and his long-time sponsor Warren Henry Auto dealership in Florida remains to be promoting vehicles.
But 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 loss program 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 website. But it seems his enterprise associate Robin Rothfeld has moved on, focusing on a new venture with her daughters, called Headbandz 4 Heroes.
Glam Screen founder David Borish stated the enterprise ended “amicably” once they realized rivals have been ripping off their merchandise and will not be aggressive out there. But Borish is still creating new companies and products.
“It’s hard to become well-known — and stay well-known — and not fall off the edge of the earth,” he advised The Post.
“They didn’t know what they were doing, and I thought they did”
Near 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 Long 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” development after Brooklyn-based the Bagel Store gifted him with a couple of swirled, multicolored bagels.
“The cotton candy bagel is the best thing I have 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 refer to him as such — although a consultant advised The Post he wouldn’t thoughts being referred to as “Jonathan Cheban” when describing the historical past of his pre-Foodgod years.
Under the brand new moniker Foodgod, he joined Prepped Delivery, a vacuum-sealed meal supply service he thought would carry his experiences to common folks.
But in accordance to the fact TV star, whereas he got here up with the corporate’s identify and the emblem, he “didn’t make the right deals” and solely owned a proportion of the corporate. He was “forced out,” he stated.
“Prepped [Delivery] wasn’t mine. They brought me in — people I didn’t know. They sold the company, and I kind of got cut out of it,” he stated, noting he determined that to obtain his dream, he’d have to make one thing for himself. “Now it’s all gonna be me. Because of that exact instance.”
The firm has had different ventures since then, providing Keto meals, however the Prepped Delivery 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 were doing and I thought they did,” he stated. The Post tried to attain present and previous executives on the firm however didn’t obtain a response.
“Eat or pass????”
Just 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 TikTook.
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 extensively cherished matter, he has curated an enormous viewers — 6.2 million followers on TikTook and three.5 million followers on Instagram alone.
Last week, greater than 100,000 folks responded to a single Instagram story — considered by 4 instances that many — in lower than 24 hours, he confirmed The Post from his Instagram account.
His evaluations are brash, excessive and massive — similar to his persona and the meals within the content material he curates. Almost each publish on TikTook and Instagram comes with an motion assertion: “Tag someone you would eat this with” or “Rate from 1 to 10” or “Would you eat this? Let me know!” or “Eat or pass????”
“I put on a show. That’s my thing,” he stated. “I always try to deliver it funny.”
Since 2017, he has been sponsored by Burger King, a sweet membership supply service, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Jersey Mike’s, Impossible Burger and Vodka Beluga. He even teamed up with Atari for cell video games “Food Truck Frenzy” and a Foodgod-themed attraction in “Rollercoaster Tycoon.”
Still, 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 love this spot @officialburgerim. WHO WILL SHARE THIS WITH ME?” he wrote on Instagram in typical Foodgod fashion.
But Foodgod severed ties with the burger chain when a report claimed that the enterprise was scamming 1,200 “teachers, cooks, accountants [and] police officers” into paying franchise charges for companies the corporate had no plans to run, Page Six previously reported.
Today, the entrepreneur has a workforce of individuals vetting enterprise pitches for him, led by his lawyer Steve Mandel, who helps facilitate his enterprise offers. The Post tried to attain Mandel, however a consultant stated he was unavailable.
“It’s so much hard work. People don’t even understand,” Foodgod advised the Post. “Flying all over [the world] is exhausting. I have to build a brand and then figure out how to stay relevant.”
Future of 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 firm, which has but to disclose its identify, will ship out meals with a menu based mostly on Foodgod’s travels with meals featured on his social-media accounts. Foodgod stated he’s at the moment creating the menu.
“We’re bringing the restaurant to you. It’s all inspired by amazing things that I’ve tried that other people can’t get, from all over the world. Everything will be inspired by things like a dip from London that you can’t get here,” he stated.
It additionally has a distinct enterprise technique, Foodgod stated, however declined to give any additional particulars.
“We have a CEO — someone that runs it. We’re partners — it’s not a percentage [ownership] deal. They can’t push me out. Those are learning curves,” he stated. “Now it’s a whole different story.”
That’s not the one new product he’s launching. He’s now identified for his $20 Truffle Ketchup, which he launched in 2020, and the subsequent spherical of merchandise is salad dressings. He additionally stated he has a line of CBD-infused snacks and desserts coming quickly.
After that, he desires to department into everyman’s-foods and frozen meals with “Foodgod vibes” like cacio e pepe (a easy cheese pasta with pepper) he stated.
“Some people want a $3,000 dinner in Ibiza; some want french fry pepperoni pizza. It’s not just high end — I want everyone to love my stuff,” he stated.
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 season, and Pure Green, a juice store the place he launched a blue banana milkshake on May 5 and can launch a Foodgod pink ginger shot this summer season.
Today, his companions say they worth his excessive requirements and culinary experience — and the way hands-on he’s. Ross Franklin, CEO of Pure Green, stated Foodgod requested 5 revisions of the product, did a blind tasting and helped design product branding earlier than approving the Foodgod-branded drinks.
But his companions nonetheless don’t underestimate the worth of his social-media following and his celeb connections. During the blind tasting in Miami, Paris Hilton walked into the store and tried Jonathan’s new drink, stated Franklin.
“I thought it was a funny coincidence,” he advised The Post. “Everybody knows him, so he can bring them in.”