The business news and financial publication released its annual list January 3, naming the young Miami native one out of a pool of thousands of the nation's most inspiring change agents — each selected from 20 industries, including food and drink — that embodies "today’s leading young change-makers and innovators” under the age of 30.
Of the dozens of young chefs, restaurateurs, and foodie entrepreneurs who made the 2017 Forbes list, many were chosen for spearheading a new wave of clean eating (think vegan restaurants and grain-free tortillas).
But still others like Gonzalez are getting recognized for creating not-so-healthy fare such as homemade toffee, cakes, and — as the case with Night Owl — fresh-baked cookies in fun flavors such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, s'mores, and Couch Potato, which combines chocolate chips, potato chips, caramel, and sea salt.
Lee Brian Schrager, founder of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, was one of the Forbes judges to nominate Gonzalez, putting him through the cutthroat selection process alongside 15,000 other nominees.
At 20 years old, Gonzalez says, he got the idea for Night Owl Cookie Co. — his late-night delivery service that brings fresh-baked cookies in a variety of fun flavors directly to your door — while studying for college exams. It was late, and the craving hit for a fresh-baked cookie, so the niche food delivery business was born.
The business got its start in Gonzalez's mother's kitchen four years ago. At the time, the 21-year-old Gonzalez did it all, from taking orders and making deliveries to preparing the dough and baking batch after batch of cookies. As the business grew, so did the move to a commercial kitchen.
Today, with a year-old brick-and-mortar location and a booming business that makes between 150 to 300 deliveries through partners such as UberEATS each night to cookie-craving customers, 25-year-old Gonzalez says it was a long road to get where he is today — and onto Forbes' "30 Under 30" list.
"I wanted to give up so many times," Gonzalez recalls. "People think the business is fairly new because we just opened our first standalone location, but it's been a lot of hard work and sacrifice over the past four years."
Along the way, Gonzalez says, he was fortunate to have support from fellow business startups and mentors such as Pincho Factory co-owner Nadal Ahmed and Burger Beast founder Sef Gonzalez to open his first brick-and-mortar at 10742 SW 24th St. in 2016.
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Plans are to grow the business over the next six months to other areas, including Kendall, Coral Gables, and downtown Miami. The menu is growing too: Several new ice-cream cookie sandwiches will be available later this month.
"I think it's really important to thank Miami and everybody who has supported my dream," Gonzalez says. "I could work as hard as I can to bring a great product to the table, but without them, I would get nowhere."
In honor of the help he's received along the way, Gonzalez has declared January 9 his first Night Owl Appreciation Day, when every customer who stops by the shop will receive a free chocolate chip cookie as a thank-you for supporting his business.
"Making this list has really solidified my dream to grow the business. My main goal is to have a Night Owl in every major city across the country," he says.