It wasn’t until his mother accidentally set their kitchen on fire when he was a child that Rico León, a Denver-based contractor, realtor and the star of HGTV’s Rico to the Rescue, understood just how deceiving contractors can be. With promises of supplying labor, materials and a quick fix, the contractor they hired had only one request: three-quarters of the reconstruction budget before starting. Shortly after receiving the money, the contractor disappeared.
“It was rough,” León said. “Watching my parents dip into their savings box and just recoup that money back. And insurance said, ‘Hey, you gave him the money; you chose that contractor.’ So, they were left with their backs against the wall. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”
Although this was the catalyst for León’s career, it wasn’t until he entered the industry that he realized it was the place for him. Growing up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania with strict, blue-collar Latino parents, the realtor went from bussing tables to working in restoration and plumbing at Roto-Rooter, where he was a sales manager from 2014 to 2017. There, he not only learned the importance of hard work by physically addressing water damage, sewage and mold, but also how to manage a crew.
“I had all these different jobs growing up,” León said. “But when I started restoration, that’s where I found my knack. I would sell the job, change clothes, and do the job. Then, I started managing and had 70 plumbers under me, and I was the only one in my position, so that consumed years of my life, my young 20s.”
It was when he was traveling across the United States from the East to the West coast when León’s car broke down in Denver, Colorado, that he decided to relocate and settle in the city he came to love. There, he worked as a restoration project manager specialist at Abbotts Fire and Flood Restoration until he decided to launch his own restoration company, GOAT Development Group, in 2019.
“Before real estate, I consulted for realtors. I would consult for realtors and insurance agents, helping them with marketing, value add and strategies. And it was funny because I saw them making tons more money than I did. I was like, ‘They’re using all of my advice and making money. I’ve got to start doing this for myself.’ So shifted gears and started both of those careers for myself.”
In addition to his construction company, León has his own podcast, GOAT Talk Radio, where he has in-depth discussions about the good and bad aspects of construction and gives homeowners and builders brutally honest advice, and Par 3 Productions, his own production company. He is also a business consultant for construction, emergency, restoration and roofing companies such as Grace Kennedy-Colorado Real Estate and Red Hawk Roofing.
In 2021, the Denver-based contractor was approached to interview with HGTV for a potential show about real estate, but one listen to León’s experience with sticky construction situations and the navigating of lawyers and contracts made them realize his own show was a better idea. Not long after, León, along with his team, Matt Plowman, the chief estimator, and Poonam Moore, an interior designer, filmed the first season of Rico to the Rescue, which premiered in January 2023. The show follows the trio as they help homeowners who are left with unfinished or poorly done projects by dodgy contractors.
“I’m just happy to be part of the HGTV family and to have their support because my show is not easy to do,” León said. “Without HGTV’s support, the support I have from the Latino community and friends of mine, we wouldn’t be able to do my show at all. It’s definitely making it easier for me to go about and sacrifice a lot to help these families. I’m very grateful.”
Rico to the Rescue is confirmed to return to HGTV with its second season in early 2024 and the first season can be streamed on Discovery+, Max, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. And if you’re interested in following León’s journey or listening to his construction or real estate advice, check out his Instagram or website.
CALÓ NEWS sat down with León to discuss his HGTV show, Rico to the Rescue, representing the Latino community and his Puerto Rican heritage.
RICO LEÓN, 35, DENVER, COLORADO, REALTOR AND CONTRACTOR, HE/HIM, LATINO
YOU STAR IN HGTV’S RICO TO THE RESCUE, WHICH WILL BE RETURNING FOR SEASON 2 IN EARLY 2024 AND HAS SEASON 1 CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR STREAMING ON MAX. WHAT IS THE SHOW ABOUT?
The show is about homeowners who want their dream home or dream renovation. They hire a contractor, a contractor tells them everything they want to hear, contractors are excited to collect that first check and homeowners are excited to get things moving. They have a good period, but then the contractor starts over-promising, underdelivering or maybe going on too many vacations. All these kinds of things start coming about, and then the homeowners feel uneasy because contractors are not answering the phone. So, when that happens, I come in. I like to delegate because I speak “contractor” and “homeowner” fluently. I reach out to the contractor and figure out a solution to get the project back on track so that they can get back into their beautiful home.
HOW DID THE SHOW COME TO FRUITION?
I was interviewed to do a real estate show, and when the producer interviewed me, he was like, ‘Wait a minute. You have 100 5-star reviews, you have a great website and you speak Spanish fluently?’ And contractors would sell. They would say, ‘We can build you the Taj Mahal in three months. My guys are the best of all time.’ And I would always tell homeowners the truth. ‘This is what it’s going to be like. It’s gonna be hard, but I’m always going to communicate with you. And we’ll get things done.’ Well, I think a lot of homeowners like to be sold. What happens is two, three months later, they know they’ve made a mistake, they call me back, and they say, ‘I know I gave a lot of the money to that contractor already, but please take this project over.’ This was happening in real life before the show. Once [the producer] heard that story, it just took off after that.
IN RICO TO THE RESCUE, YOU AND YOUR SKILLED TEAM ARE ADVOCATES FOR DESPERATE FAMILIES WHO NEED AN EMPATHETIC EXPERT TO FIX THEIR STRESSFUL SITUATIONS. WHY IS TURNING THE CONSTRUCTION NIGHTMARES INTO DREAM HOMES FOR THESE HOMEOWNERS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
When it happened to my own family, I just know what it’s like and what it does to families. If there’s advice I could give to homeowners, it’ll be all the tips that I have on the show. Because for however many seasons, with all that knowledge, if people watch the show, it’ll prevent them from going into these nightmares. So that it never happened. It’s not just the homeowners, it’s the contractors themselves. Not all contractors are bad. Even though they might be in a bad situation, they need to learn as well, how to go about things, so that they don’t put families in these situations. A huge part of this is for both contractors and homeowners to learn from the show.
AS A LATINO BUILDER, YOU ARE A HUGE REPRESENTATION OF THE COMMUNITY. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO YOU?
It’s amazing. Speaking Spanish helped in the industry since Latinos have such a huge driving force in construction. But it’s been phenomenal because I’ve had Latinos reach out to me saying, ‘Hey, after watching the show, I want to start my own business.’ It’s inspired a lot of people to take things to the next level and do the right thing, and I think that’s had such a positive impact. I have people starting businesses in New York to Marc Anthony in Miami seeing the show, knowing about the show and reaching out to me to help his nonprofit called the Maestro Cares Foundation, which helps underprivileged communities build community centers. It’s things like that. When we’re all aligned, we would never have known that unless the show came up. Because of that, it is a beautiful opportunity for us to keep doing good.
HOW HAS YOUR PUERTO RICAN CULTURE SHAPED WHO YOU ARE AND CULTIVATED YOUR WORK ETHIC TODAY?
I was lucky. Even though I was raised in Pittsburgh, my family stuck to their roots. They made sure I spoke Spanish, cooked Spanish and danced Spanish. They were worried too because I was the only Latino in my school and they were worried about me being an outcast. But I’m glad that they stuck to their roots because a lot of their friends who lived in the area, who were from Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba or Mexico, didn’t teach their kids Spanish because they were worried that they would be outcasts. I’m very lucky that my parents stuck to their guns. They were strict, but I’m looking back and thinking, ‘Thank God they were that way.’
YOU LOVE TO COOK AND HAVE MULTIPLE FAVORITE PUERTO RICAN RECIPES, AND AS WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH, HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE? WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 FAVORITE DISHES?
My favorite Puerto Rican recipes are, number one, definitely Mofongo. Araña, which is fried plantains. It’s not a dish, but it’s something that I loved when I was in Puerto Rico. We would visit every year, but my grandmother lives in Mayagüez and there are two kinds of ice cream trucks in Puerto Rico. One’s for ice cream and the other one is for pan dulce, which is just sweet bread. It’s freshly cooked and lighter than Hawaiian bread, but it’s sweet. Those are some of my favorites. I wouldn’t even know if you call it a dish, but it’s just one of my favorite things that I had growing up. Those would definitely be the top three.