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One Of The Richest Families In America Owes Their Entire Fortune To… Hot Pockets.

In case you were wondering, YES inventing Hot Pockets made someone a billionaire. The Merage family is now among the wealthiest families in America thanks to Hot Pockets!

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A tray of Hot Pockets sliding into the microwave during a Friday night with the boys in high school was a sure sign of a great time. And, as any late night Hot Pocket consumer can confirm, the true mark of a successful late night Hot Pocket feast was waking up the next morning feeling like someone had scorched the top of your mouth with a blowtorch.

Warning: the name of the individual is Joe C. Wen. Joe made his money thanks to a company called Sakura Paper Inc., which makes high-end custom party invitations, place cards, menus, thank you cards, and save-the-dates. I’m not joking. Another astounding instance of a sizable fortune being generated from a completely unrelated firm.

In my study, I discovered that Paul Merage lost the title of owner of the largest mansion in all of Orange County to Joe C. Wen. Joe’s house was 10,000 square feet larger than Paul’s, at 55,000 square feet. This is the 45,000 square foot residence of Paul Merage.

Paul Merage Newport mansion
Via Google Earth

through Google Earth

How did billionaire Paul Merage get started?

The Origins Of A Scorching Hot Fortune

In 1943, a Jewish family in Tehran, Iran, welcomed Paul Merage into the world. Three years prior, his parents were residing in France, where his father had an import/export company for antiques. The Merage parents took the wise choice to board a boat and flee to their native Tehran as the Nazis closed in on France.

Paul and his younger brother David immigrated to the US in the early 1960s to enroll in the University of California at Berkeley. Paul earned an undergraduate degree in economics, followed by an M.B.A. from the school and then landed a job at General Foods. Paul worked on specialized culinary items like Tang, Hostess sweets, and freeze-dried coffee for almost ten years. Over time, he progressed to become the director of new goods.

Chef America, Inc.

The boys got their first Belgian waffle while on vacation in Europe at some point in the early 1970s. They instantly knew this larger-style waffle could be a huge hit back in America where the consuming public had only ever experienced thin Eggo-style waffles.

They only required their own business.

Paul and David began their own food business together in 1974. They addressed the business as Chef America, Inc. Paul obtained THREE mortgages on his house in order to raise the initial funding for the company’s start. They quickly ran out of that money and the brothers were forced to ask for a loan from their parents.

They spent months testing and perfecting a recipe for frozen waffles. When they were prepared, the brothers knocked on doors to promote their frozen Belgian waffles to cafes, stores, and eateries.

A Microwave Revelation

Unbelievably, the majority of American houses lacked microwaves in the early 1980s. It was Paul who correctly predicted microwaves would soon proliferate in American kitchens, opening up a world of new product category opportunities.

1) Paul understood that as more women entered the workforce, they would be less likely to be at home to prepare their children an after-school snack.

2) The snack they developed had to be very simple for kids to prepare and consume on their own. No utensils could be used because the snack had to be completely contained. He was looking for a delicacy that could be eaten as a snack while using just a paper towel and a two-minute microwave.

Hot Pockets

(Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Editor Showcase)

In 1983, Hot Pockets first appeared.

At first, they didn’t move forward.

By 1985, Chef America had succeeded in getting Hot Pockets stocked on grocery shelves all across the country.

Sales eventually began to soar. The company soon introduced over 30 flavors and variations, including Lean Pockets, Croissant Pockets and Breakfast Pockets.

Chef America made $750 million in revenue in 2002. The brothers made the decision to sell the company to Nestle in the same year. The purchase cost?

$2.6 billion

Paul started the MIG Group, a private investment company, after selling the business. As co-founders, he included his son and one of his brothers. The MIG Group currently oversees assets worth over $1 billion, the majority of which are commercial properties but also include some investments in private equity and venture capital.

David established his own investment company named the CIG Group after moving to Denver with the business years ago. The CIG Group invests in commercial real estate, capital markets, and private equity, just like MIG does. The CIG Group owns more than 25,000 apartment units in America, 10 million square feet of office space and 2,500 acres of residential land. The CIG Group oversees assets worth over $2 billion.

Between the four brothers, the family is estimated to conservatively be worth more than $5 billion. They are now among the wealthiest families in America thanks to that.

Philanthropy

Tens of millions of dollars have been contributed by the David and Laura Merage Foundation to organizations in Colorado that support early childhood development and education.

A Teeny Tiny Blemish

She admitted to paying $300,000 to college admissions consultant Rick Singer to gain admission for her daughters to the University of Southern California. She spent $200,000 to have one of the girls falsely identified as a volleyball recruit, and she paid $100,000 to have a proctor rig their ACT exam. Even before the girls were accepted, the plan was discovered.

And it all seems completely superfluous. Given that the business school is aptly named after their grandpa, I’m very sure the girls could have attended UC Irvine without even submitting their scores! I presume UC Irvine didn’t have the necessary cachet?

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