Foodgod Jonathan Cheban Talks Instagram Fame in David Grutman's Entrepreneurship Class

David Grutman and Foodgod, Jonathan Cheban
David Grutman and Foodgod, Jonathan Cheban Courtesy of David Grutman
Restaurant and nightlife maven David Grutman's FIU class on entrepreneurship is shaping up as a place for celebrity sightings. The first class included an introduction by DJ Khaled, and yesterday students got a crash course in social media from Instagrammer Foodgod.

Last evening's class took the 200 or so students on a field trip to Komodo, where Grutman led a two-hour class on how to create a restaurant, using his Brickell hot spot as a case study.

During the class, Grutman imparted practical knowledge such as how to negotiate a lease (never include the outdoor patio space in the square-footage cost), how to cost food, and how to design a space to match the concept.
click to enlarge David Grutman addressing class at Komodo - COURTESY OF DAVID GRUTMAN
David Grutman addressing class at Komodo
Courtesy of David Grutman
Grutman shared some basic, old-school "cardinal rules" he uses at his restaurants, such as insisting servers write down orders and making sure all lightbulbs are in working condition. The restaurateur told a story about when he was starting out, working at a restaurant in Aventura. "The owner took me outside and showed me the sign at a neighboring restaurant that had some burnt-out bulbs. He said, 'That restaurant will be out of business in six months because they don't care.' They closed two months after that."

Grutman then addressed social media and Instagram. He told students that all of his restaurants offer Instagrammable moments. As an example, he cited Komodo's Foodgod Baked Alaska Surprise. The extravagant dessert — which included scoops of cake batter, strawberry ice cream, and confetti cake topped with merengue, cotton candy, white chocolate Rice Krispies, and Fruity Pebbles — was lit on fire tableside. The dessert was an Instagram favorite, with 895 likes on one picture of the concoction posted on Komodo's Insta account.
click to enlarge Foodgod addressing FIU students at Komodo. - COURTESY OF DAVID GRUTMAN
Foodgod addressing FIU students at Komodo.
Courtesy of David Grutman
To further describe the dessert — and how Instagram can be used as a marketing tool — Grutman brought out Foodgod himself, formerly known as Jonathan Cheban.

A satellite in the Kardashian "konstellation," he recently made news for legally changing his name to “Foodgod” two weeks ago. On October 23, Broward circuit Judge Peter Holden, approved Cheban's petition for the name change.

Foodgod entered the dining-room-turned-classroom to thunderous applause that turned into a low clatter as 200 students reached for their phones to record the event.

Sporting a black T-shirt and gold chain that looked straight from Mr. T's wardrobe, the reality celebrity apologized for wearing ultradark sunglasses indoors. "I was bit by a spider earlier today and my eye is swollen," he said.

The influencer talked about the importance of owning your own brand and how branding himself Foodgod opened a world of lucrative opportunities, including partnerships with Burger King and a regular spot on Dr. Oz's daytime TV show.

He also told the tale of the origin of his Instagram moniker. He said he introduced the name to Kim Kardashian and Kanye on a flight to Iceland. They were silent, but later Kanye began calling him “Foodgod” during the trip. "Kanye was eating something and asked me if it was Foodgod-approved. I knew I was onto something then."

Then he confided the reason he became a food influencer: He didn't want to compete with his famous friends, the Kardashians, in the beauty and fashion world.

The Instagrammer, who boasts more than 3 million followers, then answered questions, including if he would ever open his own restaurant. "Not now, but I'm thinking of opening one in the future." The theme? A coffee shop serving Instgrammable dishes like rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches.

After the class, Foodgod chatted briefly with New Times about food trends. He cited the gold-leaf chicken wings he helped make famous last year at New York's The Ainsworth. “Gold is so out now. I wish the restaurant would take it off the menu." After being addressed as “Jonathan,” he pulled out his phone and proudly produced a picture of the court document bearing the Broward clerk's seal that proclaims him — legally — Foodgod. "One word, like ‘Cher.’"

The seven-week course will continue with students visiting two of Grutman’s other concepts: Swan and LIV.  Only time will tell whether the professor will reach out to some of his other influential friends and colleagues to share their experiences with the class. 
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss