Miami-based Jonathan Cheban, known today as the Foodgod, began his career behind the camera running New York’s celebrity public relations circuit.
After years of being friends with the Kardashian family, Jonathan now goes by a new name- he legally changed his name to the Foodgod, eating out 365 days a year and sharing his lavish food adventures with over 12 million followers.
Now, Foodgod is becoming a household name, coming off his Discovery+ show Foodgod, and is launching a national meal delivery service, Foodgod Fresh, inspired by famous restaurants and viral food dishes.
Simply put, this food connoisseur has a pulse on all things food: from the buzziest new restaurants in town, to the most extravagant dishes, to culinary trends that are so hot, and so not.
We sat down with the maven himself to discuss his personal rebrand, how to establish yourself as an industry authority, and ways the pandemic has impacted the NYC restaurant scene.
You have rebranded yourself from Jonathan to Foodgod. Has legally changing your name led to a more symbolic reclaiming of your identity?
When I decided to build a brand based on food, I really wanted people to understand that I wasn’t just somebody on a TV show who happened to have a passion for food. It’s a legitimate thing, a legitimate business, and for people to really take you seriously, you have to make drastic moves. We’re living in a social media world where people become bigger than life through social media alone, without even television at this point. People knew me as Jonathan for so long, and it was time to make a change. I decided that the most modern, innovative thing to do was to change my name legally to match what it was on social media. This choice really drove my point home, and people were no longer questioning my dedication to the brand and the magnitude of what I was doing.
After years of being friends with Kim Kardashian, you have made a name for yourself in the industry. How has your proximity to the Kardashian family given you a platform? At the same time, how have you been able to forge your own path?
Our friendship happened to unfold on a television show that the entire world was watching. But it was real life, no different from any other friendship you or I might have.
The girls have their own brands, so I made sure I wasn’t doing anything in near proximity to what they were doing- makeup, beauty, fashion, or anything of the sort. So, I cut out my own category that would not coincide with anything that they were doing at the time. My vehicle is food, which was obviously amplified through the platform Keeping Up With The Kardashians gave me, but my brand itself is very separate from my relationship with the family. We became friends before the television show, and this is what grew out of it. Everybody has their own brand, and for me, it was food.
And it’s not just regular food. It’s not about chefs, and it’s not about recipes. It’s a niche that I found through discovery. I saw that people were looking for experiences and extravagant food. They didn’t care as much about how it was made, or who was making it. And that’s why Foodgod works. My brand is centered around personality, creativity, originality, and constantly searching for the most innovative, cool things out there.
I’ve adapted and changed my formula throughout the years based on what works and what doesn’t. First, it was pictures of food, then it was videos of food, then it was me in the videos with food as I experienced the places firsthand. Now, I’m able to find food and talk about it without even having to be there, because everybody wants their information so fast. You have to modernize, have your pulse on the trends, and stay ahead of them.
I was able to forge my own path because I embraced my persona as Foodgod wholeheartedly and in all aspects of life. I really wanted to solidify to my friends and family, and to the entire world, that this was my permanent identity now. My whole day revolves around foodgod: creating products, brand messaging, videos, you name it. It’s not like I’m on and off- this is me all the time.
You have a very specific niche, and that is eating very extravagant food. Why is having a niche proven to be successful for you? What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs who are struggling to find “their thing?”
The answer is the same for both. You have to stick with it and be consistent. Food is my lane, and I haven’t veered off of that lane in six years. I do post about other things as well, like cool cars, or clothes, but everything needs to revolve around food at the end of the day. If I’m posting in a car, food needs to be next to me.
So many people have approached me and asked if I’m still doing that Foodgod “thing.” No, I’m not doing that “thing.” It’s a multi-million dollar brand. You need to just tune out the noise, and keep going.
You are notorious for sharing your lavish food adventures with your community. How have you used food as a mechanism to connect with your followers? On a broader scale, why do you think food binds us together as a culture?
I think food became the third category: its beauty, fashion, and food. Everybody eats it, in the same way that everybody wears makeup, and everybody puts on clothes. There’s just as much creativity and originality in the food space. I can’t calculate or quantify it, but I would argue that food is definitely a leading category in our culture. Especially with social media, everybody wants instagrammable food. Everybody has an occasion to eat food. Food is at the center of just about everything.
Food trends are always changing. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
When I see it, I instantly know if it’s going to work and resonate with people. You need to constantly be innovative and original. You need to find something fun and something that is going to wow people.
It’s also important to note that not everybody has been going out fully yet, and a lot of the restaurants have not gotten back to being creative and original because of the pandemic. Because of that, I’m in this in-between stage where I’m trying to find really cool, click-worthy stuff, but also need to find stuff that’s accessible to people. I think by next year, all new places will open up, and innovation will definitely be at the forefront of the industry again.
There are tons of places that closed in Manhattan over the past few years, and exciting, modern places are going to replace them all over the city. Food creativity is going to be at an all-time high once the NYC restaurant scene is back in full swing. I really think people are going to be able to live their dreams now, which is going to be amazing for the food world at large. That being said, restaurants will need to be super creative in order to get people through their doors, creating a lot of competition for these new places.
The pandemic has really shaped the food scene because people weren’t concerned with the trends or creativity. They just needed to survive. We were dependent on delivery services, and the experiential component of food was not even in question. My brand has changed on account of that, and I’m excited to finally be able to visit exciting food capitals again, like New York, Miami, La, Dallas, Chicago.
In what ways does your show, Foodgod, differentiate itself from other culinary shows in the space? Furthermore, what perspective can you give that other food lovers cannot?
Drawing on my earlier point, it’s not just about the recipe. It’s really about the actual experience of consuming food. Rather than showing a behind the scenes of the kitchen, my show provides a mix of food, fun, comedy, and a bit of luxury as well.
People don’t need me to show them how to prepare something. They rely on me to show them the cool places to sit, why something is so different and original, and why this crazy experience in Vegas is great for your birthday party. My show is experience-based, not kitchen-based.
You have established yourself as a food authority in the industry, but don’t have a traditional culinary background. How have your experiences shaped you into the subject expert you are today?
Every since I was a kid, my whole day has always revolved around food. Period.
I think I’m also really on point with flavors. I go to tastings for major restaurant openings, and I’m able to identify what specific tastes and ingredients need to be changed. The chefs actually make these changes because these small critiques make a huge difference. I think I have a golden palette, to be honest with you, and I really taste things that can take something to the next level, or could sink a place. I could tell just by reading the menu. When I see a combination of ingredients, I can immediately tell if something is going to be great or a total failure. I just have this innate talent, which comes from my obsession with food. I’ll go to these restaurants and they’re like, “Oh my god, you’re right. Why didn’t we think of that,” which is a testament to my knowledge in the space.
It’s almost impossible to get a reservation in New York right now. What are your thoughts on how competitive Resy has gotten over the years, and our culture’s obsession with these difficult-to-get reservations?
To me, it’s exactly the same as getting front row at a fashion show in Milan. It’s going to be difficult to go to good places, as it should be. It’s increasingly harder to get a table at these popular NYC restaurants because people are really roaring to go. The city is finally waking up again. It’s tougher to get reservations in New York than anywhere else at the moment, because COVID restrictions were stricter than they were in Miami, for example. People are eager to spend and to get that full in-person experience. People just don’t want to sit at home anymore!
What is the best thing you have ever eaten?
Come on, this is so hard! The question is almost impossible to answer because I eat out 365 days a year. I absolutely love restaurants in Europe. I have this award-winning ravioli at Taverna Trilussa in Rome that’s truly incredible. I can’t even tell you what’s in it because it’s a secret recipe. It's really hard to choose the best thing I've ever had, but this definitely up there.
Photography by: Thaddaeus McAdams/FilmMagic