These days the question isn't what you're pouring hot sauce on, it's what aren't you pouring hot sauce on. Everyone has a go-to—even Dexter Holland of The Offspring. His heart belongs to Gringo Bandito, the fiery condiment he created 10 years ago here in Huntington Beach. Locals have certainly spotted the bottles around town atop restaurant tables and along the shelves of dedicated hot sauce shops. The logo, featuring a young Holland outfitted in his gringo bandito best, is unforgettable, as is a dollop of his red or green. While the company has its sights set on adding heat to plates across the world, the Hungry Punker crew wants to forever maintain its loyal local appeal.
A Garden Grove native, Holland's love affair with Mexican cuisine was established early on. He later moved to HB, and in the early 2000s he called upon his friend Florencia Arriaga to help him make a hot sauce. The band frontman and experienced chef experimented in the kitchen with fresh, all natural, hand-chopped ingredients for roughly one year, and in 2004 Gringo Bandito's original red sauce was born. "It's like a party in your mouth," promises Holland on the label. "And I tried to make it easy on the pooper, too," he adds. We appreciate your attention to detail, Holland.
His intent, however, was never to sell his hot sauce. He created it as a Christmas gift for his friends and crew at HB-based Nitro Records, and the sauce quickly caught fire. Friends suggested Holland sell the sauce, and in 2006—after perfecting the recipe—the first bottle hit the market. "It was too good," says Holland in press materials. "I had to share it with the world." Holland and Arriaga unleashed a zippier green version in June 2013.
Studying the label of a Gringo Bandito hot sauce is almost as much fun as dousing your food in the savory goods, which get their kick from a serious, secret blend of Mexican peppers and mojo. Habanero, jalapeño and red Japanese chili peppers give the red its signature bold flavor, and the green packs a bit more heat thanks to a combination of habanero and serrano peppers. Adding a few drops to your ranch dressing, as Gringo Bandito VP of Sales and Marketing Chris Daly advised us, will have you hooked for life.
Handmade in a kitchen in Southgate, the sauces come to life with the hands-on help of Holland, Arriaga, Daly and a small kitchen staff. "She's the quality control," says Daly of Arriaga, who tastes every batch to ensure consistency. If she doesn't taste enough mojo, it's back to the chopping block. Daly also assures fans that Holland hardly slapped his face and name on the bottle and called it terminado; Holland dons his apron as often as possible between touring, Nitro and gaining his doctorate in molecular biology at University of Southern California (USC).
When Daly showed up at our door with welcomed sauce samples and stories to tell on a recent Thursday afternoon, he had just spent his morning in the kitchen de-stemming peppers. He had the hair net to prove it. Holland, says Daly, does the same. "That's the cool part about the company," says Daly. "Everyone helps out in every aspect."
Another cool part of the Huntington Beach-based company is its ambitious mission to expand while staying true to its roots. Part of Gringo Bandito's local appeal includes hand-delivering products to smaller local partners, and up until recently the company largely relied on organic growth. In the early days, Hungry Punkers gifted the red sauce to local shops, companies, eateries and bars. They eventually flipped to a more lucrative model, but don't think for a second you won't catch the crew slinging free Gringo Bandito minis during the U.S. Open of Surfing in HB.
Currently, the 5-ounce and 10-ounce bottles of red grace the shelves of every single local supermarket, less Vons and Pavilions. In the past five years alone Gringo Bandito has invaded over 1,000 supermarkets. Sprouts and Whole Foods even carry the red, as do a slew of local eateries. Grab a bite at Sugar Shack Cafe, Fred's, Chronic Tacos, Wahoo's Fish Taco, Aloha Grill, Secret Spot, Hot Off the Grill or Woody's Diner in HB, and you'll spy Holland and his crisscrossed pistols. In total, more than 500 restaurants have said si to the red. Angels Stadium of Anaheim and Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas offer the mother of all Gringo Bandito distribution options: pump dispensers.
"Our red is our bread and butter," says Daly, noting that the green sauce is steadily gaining momentum. We'll admit: We're happily obsessed with the spicier verde, which can be found alongside its mother sauce at Sugar Shack Cafe, all Orange County Mother's Markets, OC-based Las Golodrinas, Long Beach-based Hot Licks and Light My Fire in Los Angeles.
Aside from the fresh ingredients and "labor of love" preparation, the sauces are also gluten free and contain 70 percent less salt than their competitors. Always injecting fun into its business practices, the company tailors its bottle labels and stickers to specific markets. Texans, for example, are promised that the sauce is "Not Made In New York."
The Hungry Punker gang hopes to hook people all over the world on its sauces, and this year looks to be an explosive one (pun intended). With awards from OC Weekly and MTV under its belt, the crew has landed Albertsons accounts in Texas, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho, as well as other accounts in Florida, Louisiana and Texas. A few mom-and-pop shops in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey also house the sauce. Thanks to a new collaboration with a national broker, Gringo Bandito will surely give the nation a tasty kick in the mouth.
Gringo Bandito has also gone international, with partnerships in Australia, Canada, Japan, Finland, Germany and Belgium. Holland pitches his sauce while on tour, and Daly often tags along to turn on the sauce in new lands. The sauces also rank as one of the top 10 highest customer-rated hot sauces on Amazon, with big names like Metallica, Don Imus and Adam Carolla giving them public nods. "Metallica doesn't go on tour without Gringo Bandito," says Daly, laughing.
The brand will surely become a household name in the coming years, and possibly with a third, even spicier batch dubbed Angry Bandito. The new recipe, which "tastes like Gringo, just A LOT hotter," according to Daly, won third place in the first-ever OC Weekly-KCRW Hot Sauce Contest in 2013. If the peppers align, the sauce may hit the market in 2014.
Here's to 10 years of epic hot sauce and 1,000 more.