One day in 2010, Elie Ayrouth received a tweet with a location. A reader of his website had located the thing he'd been searching for: Carl's Jr.'s footlong cheeseburger. Rumors about the mystical monstrosity had existed on the Internet for years, and Ayrouth wanted to find out for his fans whether it was true. Armed with a camera and notepad, he rushed to the restaurant address in Santa Ana, ordered the item, and then marveled as it landed on his plastic tray. The burger wasn't very good, but the quest solidified what Ayrouth's humble site, Foodbeast, was becoming--a go-to source for all things new and share-worthy in the foodie universe.
Today, that's what it remains. Each month, 3 million to 6 million readers visit the website for its pretense-free take on the food stories they never knew they needed in their brain. Posts range from the enlightening ("This Is What Happens When You Dunk a McDonald's Cheeseburger in Stomach Acid") to the practical ("12 Human Foods You Didn't Know Could Kill Your Dog") to the did-I-really-just-read-that? outrageous ("Nothing Says 'I Love You' Like These Butthole-Shaped Chocolates").
"Just the other day, a writer was like, 'Yo, ramen pot pie,' and now the video is up," says Ayrouth, the site's 26-year-old publisher, describing the swift, DIY nature of Foodbeast's content, much of which is produced at the company's headquarters in downtown SanTana.
Foodbeast got its start in--where else?--a college dorm room. The Anaheim-reared son of Lebanese immigrants, Ayrouth started blogging about the food challenges his buddies undertook in the cafeteria at UC Irvine. Once, he documented his friend's attempt to wolf down 30 sloppy joes. "He got down to about 25," Ayrouth recalls, "and on the 26th one, he stood up, ran out of the hall and spray-yakked all over the walls."
Ayrouth realized there were people out there who wanted to talk about shock food and the stuff he liked to eat, but there wasn't a place to do so in a foodie scene that gushed over crème fraîche and truffled everything. The Food Network, he says, just didn't speak to him. "When your beacon of 'cool' is Guy Fieri, something has to change," he says. "What was missing was someone who could talk about fast food in a way that respected it, at least a little bit. A lot of people eat that shit, so let's talk about it."
He and his small Foodbeast team took on a "TMZ mentality," churning out posts on product releases, restaurant news and anything that would make for good Internet-as-water-cooler fodder. Then-editor Charisma Madarang discovered that Cap'n Crunch isn't technically a captain--the stripes on his uniform would make him a commander instead. The post went up, and five hours later, the issue was being dissected on CNN. "It must have been the slowest news day in the history of news," Ayrouth says.
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Other memorable posts have included a mission to order a "monkey style" burger at In-N-Out and a food hack video series (if you've never "unrolled" an orange, you don't know what your life has been missing). Recently, the staff got colonics and wrote about it. "We all fasted, went to this über-health center, got put under and got filmed getting stuff shoved up our asses," Ayrouth says. "It was terrible."
But it's the kind of thing he does for Foodbeast fans, an army that keeps on expanding. And now he's hungry to do more. "We didn't know people gave a shit about food news," Ayrouth says. "Turns out, they do."