By Al Martinez

Mike Gonzalez always had a hunkering for Hispanic food. Gonzalez is the 4 p.m. anchor at KPNX – the NBC affiliate in Phoenix. He arrived in Phoenix in July of 2018. He grew up in Miami, Florida surrounded by the flavors of the Caribbean. From a very young age he learned to love Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican flavors cooked by his mother and grandmother. “My house always had great aromas from arroz con gandules, pernil, arroz con pollo, tostones, empanadas, beans and so much more,” said Gonzalez.

Mike Gonzalez is the 4 p.m. Anchor at 12 News in Phoenix he is also the creator of the food blog Hispanic Food Network

Gonzalez launched Hispanic Food Network in 2010 while working in all places – Spokane, Washington – where he was a news anchor at the ABC affiliate there. Spokane is 95 percent Caucasian but viewers tuned into the show in masses.

“I was looking for a Cuban recipe and I figured the Food Network had a Hispanic version of their site. So I searched Hispanic Food Network. When I couldn’t find a domain I asked my good friend Dwight how I buy a website domain. I purchased hispanicfoodnetwork.com and the rest was history. I then launched the show called “En La Cocina” and people really loved it there. It’s a show that’s about Hispanic food but it’s in English. I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the food and recipes. It was a hit! We ran 40 shows over 3 seasons and expanded into Seattle and Idaho. People love seeing their favorite restaurants and learning about new recipes. The formula was pretty simple,” said Gonzalez.

En La Cocina with Mike Gonzalez features Phoenix area Hispanic restaurants

The Food Network also took notice of Gonzalez’ success. The parent company that owns the Food Network sent Mike several letters asking him to turn the website off because the name closely resembled theirs. “I told the Food Network it was my domain and it was for sale. After several conversations, letters and legal wrangling they finally gave up. “They knew I wasn’t giving into them,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez wanted the Hispanic Food Network to transition into a 24 hour cable network. After talks with investors flamed out – he put the idea away in 2015.

“I had put a lot of effort into the show and trying to create something that would highlight Hispanic food, culture and travel. I had talked with a lot of people over 4 or 5 years but I was burnt out. We had traveled across the Northwest for 4 years and I think I visited every Latin restaurant in the region,” said Gonzalez

But when Mike arrived in Phoenix his passion was sparked once again.

“When I arrived in the Valley my love for Hispanic food just pulled me in again – so I started blogging. Something amazing happened. Our Facebook page started to grow at an incredible rate,” said Gonzalez.

In the past year the Hispanic Food Network Facebook page has grown by 7,000 fans. Gonzalez says it’s all been organic likes — from people around the Valley primarily.

“People love Hispanic food here. I’ve found it doesn’t matter in you’re Hispanic, Black, White, Asian or whatever. Everyone has their favorite spot in the Valley,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has launched an online version of “En La Cocina” for his blog hispanicfoodnetwork.com and social media platforms. He hopes to eventually put it on television but for now he’s keeping it organic.

“Right now I’m just having fun with it. I’m not making any money off this. This is purely a labor of love. People think I’m a little nuts for being such an avid Hispanic food blogger and not getting paid for all this. I’m keeping it really authentic and developing the brand. Our motto is “Always Authentic” at the Hispanic Food Network. So everything we produce we keep that in mind. My biggest thrill is hearing from restaurant owners who tell me people are coming to the restaurant because of your videos,” said Gonzalez.

There’s also a social component to the Hispanic Food Network brand. Gonzalez is working to partner with Valley non-profits to help the Hispanic Community.

“Right now I’m working with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They work in the trenches, helping develop Hispanic businesses. I love their mission. I just partnered with One Bag At A Time. They’re a Phoenix based non-profit that helps feed the homeless in the metro. I will promote them in my videos and online tv show. I have some others in mind that are close to my heart — that really help the Hispanic community. I believe God has given me some talents that help people to empower themselves. I’m a huge believer in giving a hand up. Most people just need to know you care about them and that’s when you see them grow,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is working with some Valley food bloggers who are contributing to the site. He says if you’re interested in writing for HFNTV you can email him at hfntvphoenix@gmail.com. Or call him at 480-869-4348. But you must have a real passion for Hispanic food.

“I love that we have such a great Hispanic food scene here. The people in the Valley are great. I feel like this is the perfect fit for me and my passions,” said Gonzalez.

You can catch Mike Gonzalez every Mon-Friday on First at 4 on 12 News.

If you have a news story for him you can email mgonzalezc@12news.com