At 16, Jonathan Cheban’s car smelled of vinegar and oil, an aroma left over from his job as a Blimpie delivery driver in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Today, the infamous Kardashian bestie — some might say hanger on — who has legally changed his name to Foodgod lives large in multimillion dollar properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, owns two luxury cars and racks up astronomical restaurant bills — after all, his brand promise is that he eats out 365 days a year.
Still, after two decades in the pop-cult spotlight, much of the public could be forgiven for asking: How did this self-proclaimed culinary deity actually become — and stay — a lucrative influencer with more 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, told The Post in an exclusive interview. “When you don’t know, you don’t know.”
And “random” is accurate. The Post looked at LLCs, trademark registrations, financial disclosures and archived press releases to find out where his money comes from — and discovered that Foodgod has had a hand in at least 59 businesses over the past two decades, from fashion to health to auto sales.
Today, he’s hawking his own truffle ketchup and CBD snacks, but the products he’s now producing stand on years of “trading up” — from planning parties for celebrities, to befriending celebrities, to becoming a celebrity himself and capitalizing through endorsements, to finally launching his own companies.
But the bona fide businessman is ready for his mogul moment, despite haters who believe Kim Kardashian catapulted him into fame.
“I helped Kim along the way — big time — but I created my own identity,” he said. (Reps for Kardashian did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.)
Cheban walked The Post through the journey that made a former teenage Blimpie delivery driver into one of the most influential food influencers in the world, making an estimated $30,000 per month on each social-media endorsement — and the lessons he learned along the way.
“I got the bug”
Born in present-day Moldova (at that time, part of the USSR), Foodgod grew up in Fort Lee and graduated from Long Island’s Hofstra University in 1995.
From the beginning of his p.r. career with famed publicist Penny Siegal, he lived and breathed the spotlight — perhaps better than most celebrities. He studied and coached them on how to be famous. But soon, they needed him, he said, and that’s how he became friends with paparazzi magnets Paris Hilton, Kelly Osbourne, Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins.
By the turn of the century, he traded employment at a top p.r. firm for a chance to create his own hype house, Command PR, bringing tons of celebrity contacts with him, including 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 told The Post.
But it was never going to be enough for the soon-to-be Foodgod to prop up stars behind the scenes. The life of attention and glamour was calling to him from the moment he began planning press events, he said.
“I always loved when we did the premieres. The reaction to people arriving is such a high for people,” he said. “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 at the birthday party of mutual friend Brittny Gastineau, the model-socialite daughter of former New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau.
Soon, his friendship with the Kardashians would propel him into a career of reality television. The Kardashian bestie joined the show during its third season in 2009 and has since been on 27 episodes of the E! show, plus 15 episodes of spinoff shows like “Kourtney and Kim Take Miami,” and has made other television and movie appearances, according to IMDB.
“There’s no way I was going to pass up those opportunities,” he told The Post.
His first “big time” solo appearances were hit or miss: He starred in his own reality TV show “The Spin Crowd” about his p.r. firm, but it was canceled after one season. He sold his share in his press company, Command PR, to his business partner Simon Huck.
Alongside his “Spin Crowd” show, Cheban pitched the concept of a Reality Café in 2010. His Las Vegas restaurant idea was to serve recipes made by reality TV stars, like “Caroline Manzo’s meatballs.” But after making a splash in the news, the concept dropped out of the public eye and never came 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 representative told The Post on his behalf.
While “Spin Crowd” wasn’t the success producer Kim Kardashian hoped it would be, Cheban still had his massive Kardashian fan base: At its height 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 said. “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 said.
“What do I do?”
Cheban’s parents were both entrepreneurial types — his father was a diamond dealer in New York City’s diamond district and his mother is still a Sotheby’s real-estate broker — and it seems he inherited that entrepreneurial kick from them.
Early in his p.r. days, Cheban established multiple streams of income with fashion lines called Kritik and Clarendon, just by getting his celebrity pals to promote his entrepreneurial endeavors. His Kardashian connection formed the foundation of Foodgod’s 44 endorsements to date — arrangements where he was either paid by a company (financial disclosures of compensation range from $10,000 to $30,000 a month) or received a small share of the company to become the face of a project.
“You don’t want to do a show and then it’s done and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t do anything,’” he said. “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 today, he says the endorsements represent a period in his life before he found his niche — and when he found his own branding, it made endorsements a whole lot more lucrative.
“I needed to find my direction,” he said. “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 phone screen for women called “Glam Screen.” The companies’ SEC filings suggest that he received shares in the company for several 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],” said David Borish, founder 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 arrangement with Cheban.
Cheban owned an unknown percentage of RichRocks Jewelry with his 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, of course, Kim Kardashian.
He also received over a 1% share of gossip publication Elite Daily in 2012 in exchange for promoting the site — more than quadruple the share they gave other partners. Elite Daily founder Gerard Adams said they bought back Cheban’s shares, adding they “regretted” the partnership, according 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 told Mixergy radio show in 2017.
Some of the businesses he partnered with, including Elite Daily, are still in play. He has worked with jeweler-to-the-stars Richie Rich (not affiliated with RichRocks) for years, his specialty business card Foldz Flat is still selling branded pens and his long-time sponsor Warren Henry Auto dealership in Florida is still selling cars.
But some 90% of startups fail, according to Investopedia, so it’s no surprise that some of his partnerships evaporated. The chain of spas he endorsed abandoned its US expansion, and the diet behind Cheban’s meal replacements fell out of vogue.
RichRocks quietly disappeared off social media before the pandemic, and its website is now an Indonesian gambling site. But it appears his business partner Robin Rothfeld has moved on, focusing on a new venture with her daughters, called Headbandz 4 Heroes.
Glam Screen founder David Borish said the venture ended “amicably” when they realized competitors were ripping off their products and could no longer be competitive in the market. 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 told The Post.
“They didn’t know what they were doing, and I thought they did”
Near the end of his time experimenting, he put his face on a few food businesses and his Instagram feed started looking like a unified mouth-watering food brand.
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 sold the company to after a few years, according to Long Island local paper Newsday.
In October 2015, Cheban was credited with jump-starting the “Rainbow bagel” trend after Brooklyn-based the Bagel Store gifted him with a few swirled, multicolored bagels.
“The cotton candy bagel is the best thing I have EVER had!!” he wrote on Instagram.
The name “Foodgod” first appeared in 2016 after Kim’s then-husband Kanye West coined the term, as Foodgod tells it. He legally changed his name to Foodgod in 2019 and prefers people refer to him as such — though a representative told The Post he wouldn’t mind being called “Jonathan Cheban” when describing the history of his pre-Foodgod years.
Under the new moniker Foodgod, he joined Prepped Delivery, a vacuum-sealed meal delivery service he thought would bring his experiences to regular people.
But according to the reality TV star, while he came up with the company’s name and the logo, he “didn’t make the right deals” and only owned a percentage of the company. He was “forced out,” he said.
“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 said, noting he decided that to achieve his dream, he’d have to make something for himself. “Now it’s all gonna be me. Because of that exact instance.”
The company has had other ventures since then, offering Keto meals, but the Prepped Delivery portion of the business is over. The trademark expired in 2018, and the brand 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 said. The Post attempted to reach current and past executives at the company but did not receive a response.
“Eat or pass????”
Just over a decade after he first found fame on “KUWTK,” the side character with a few million fans would have double that number of followers on Instagram and TikTok.
Foodgod built his food empire on a brand across YouTube, podcasts and social media where he highlights the wackiest, yummiest and most out-of-this-world food. By finding drool-worthy content on a widely loved topic, he has curated a huge audience — 6.2 million followers on TikTok and 3.5 million followers on Instagram alone.
Last week, more than 100,000 people responded to a single Instagram story — viewed by four times that many — in less than 24 hours, he showed The Post from his Instagram account.
His reviews are brash, extreme and big — just like his personality and the food in the content he curates. Almost every post on TikTok and Instagram comes with an action statement: “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 said. “I always try to deliver it funny.”
Since 2017, he has been sponsored by Burger King, a candy club delivery service, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Jersey Mike’s, Impossible Burger and Vodka Beluga. He even teamed up with Atari for mobile 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 year 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 style.
But Foodgod severed ties with the burger chain when a report claimed that the business was scamming 1,200 “teachers, cooks, accountants [and] police officers” into paying franchise fees for businesses the company had no plans to run, Page Six previously reported.
Today, the entrepreneur has a team of people vetting business pitches for him, led by his lawyer Steve Mandel, who helps facilitate his business deals. The Post attempted to reach Mandel, but a representative said he was unavailable.
“It’s so much hard work. People don’t even understand,” Foodgod told 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 chance at food delivery service based on cuisines he discovers in his travels and features on social media. The company, which has yet to disclose its name, will send out meals with a menu based on Foodgod’s travels with foods featured on his social-media accounts. Foodgod said he is currently developing 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 said.
It also has a different business strategy, Foodgod said, but declined to give any further details.
“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 said. “Now it’s a whole different story.”
That’s not the only new product he’s launching. He’s now known for his $20 Truffle Ketchup, which he launched in 2020, and the next round of products is salad dressings. He also said he has a line of CBD-infused snacks and desserts coming soon.
After that, he wants to branch into everyman’s-foods and frozen meals with “Foodgod vibes” like cacio e pepe (a simple cheese pasta with pepper) he said.
“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 said.
He’s still taking small percentages and sponsorship deals with companies like OceanBox, which delivers seafood, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit where he’ll have a Foodgod item this summer, and Pure Green, a juice shop where he released a blue banana milkshake on May 5 and will release a Foodgod pink ginger shot this summer.
Today, his partners say they value his high standards and culinary expertise — and how hands-on he is. Ross Franklin, CEO of Pure Green, said Foodgod requested five revisions of the product, did a blind tasting and helped design product branding before approving the Foodgod-branded drinks.
But his partners still don’t underestimate the value of his social-media following and his celebrity connections. During the blind tasting in Miami, Paris Hilton walked into the shop and tried Jonathan’s new drink, said Franklin.
“I thought it was a funny coincidence,” he told The Post. “Everybody knows him, so he can bring them in.”