How Far Can Dexter Holland's Gringo Bandito Go?

What started as a gag gift by the Offspring singer is becoming a serious business

The hands of Dexter Holland have helped sell millions of records, their deftness on the rhythm guitar for the Offspring contributing to numerous catchy melodies over two decades, the lyrics that flowed from them enshrined in the American punk songbook. They’re thick and gnarled, each finger like a pink Cuban cigar, each knuckle cracking with just a tug—the perfect pair of hands to handle the wear and tear of furiously strumming an Ibanez RG for a living.

But last week, in a pristine commercial kitchen in the industrial-park section of Newport Beach, those hands did something unseemly for a celebrity of Holland’s stature: They helped deseed blistering peppers under the watchful eye of a Mexican.

Holland was at Da’Kine Kitchen, surrounded by boxes and buckets and sinkfuls of peppers: habaneros, Fresnos, jalapeños, red Japanese—430 pounds in all. His iconic wraparound sunglasses hung from his right front jeans pocket; he eschewed the hairnets and baptismal-white smocks that other workers wore because he was visiting just for a bit. He grabbed a habanero, gave the notorious pepper a good scrubbing under hot water before effortlessly twisting off its bright-green stem from the neon-orange body, and then put it in a bucket. Then he did it again. And again. Like a pro. Jack FM boomed in the kitchen. After a while, a pile of stems sat on a cutting board. Holland looked at them, unsure of what to do next.

Chapman Baehler
Nice work you did: Arriaga deseeds peppers at Da'Kine Kitchen
Chapman Baehler
Nice work you did: Arriaga deseeds peppers at Da'Kine Kitchen

“Just leave it in the same place,” commanded Florencia Arriaga, a native of Uruapan, Michoacan, and longtime friend of Holland who’s now helping him on the strangest venture in his eclectic career. “Now, go wash your hands—with soap. You don’t want those habaneros hurting you later!”

Holland beamed. He usually doesn’t deseed peppers, but today is a big day. Those 430 pounds of multihued peppers, along with 70 pounds of green onions and a couple of other secret ingredients, are being prepped before getting processed into more than 500 gallons of Holland’s hot sauce, Gringo Bandito. It’ll be the biggest single batch ever produced in the brand’s four-year history.

“I want to make sure we’re stirring the pot right,” he said, more subdued in person than his anarchic Offspring persona suggests. “I want to make sure the peppers are at their best. I want to make sure the ingredients settle properly, to make sure the boiling keeps them separated . . .”

He stops himself and laughs in embarrassment. Unwittingly, Holland quoted “Come Out and Play,” the song that set him on the road to fame, put him in a spot where he could concoct a hot sauce on a lark and make it into possibly the best white-guy Mexican foodstuff since the Enchirito.

Everything about Gringo Bandito sauce seems to scream, “clueless gabacho,” a cheap publicity ploy. The sauce’s name, of course. The logo—the blond, spiky-haired, fair-skinned Holland bedecked in bandoliers, revolvers, sombreros and shades—that seems to be mocking the iconic symbol for Tapatío. The promotional pictures on the sauce’s website—Gringo Bandito superimposed on the Virgin of Guadalupe, standing next to a Chihuahua statue, being poured on an unsuspecting drunk—look like slides from a frat-boy visit to Puerto Vallarta.

“I hope you enjoy the adventurous flavor and tingling tantalization of my not-so-famous pepper sauce,” Holland posts on the website in a half-serious, mostly mocking tone reminiscent of carnival medicine men. “For over two years, I have searched far and wide for the perfect combination of spices to make your next dining experience a zinger. And I tried to make it easy on the pooper, too. Try it on tacos, burritos, eggs, pizza—it’s like a party in your mouth. I personally guarantee it.”

But what started as a joke is becoming an unlikely success story. Gringo Bandito is now available at Albertsons, Food 4 Less and Whole Foods across Southern California; all Mother’s Markets and Wahoo’s locations; dozens of restaurants across Orange County—and increasingly, the Southwest. Last year’s Warped Tour used the sauce during catering, and Metallica just asked for a big order for its tours. It won two Scovie Awards in 2009, one of the longest-running hot-sauce contests in the country, for its recipe: hot like Tapatío, as flavorful as Cholula, packing proper but not hellish heat, with chile seeds left intact to ensure it remains delicious, and no preservatives to muck it up. The hot sauce isn’t selling at Tabasco levels yet, still largely a Southern California phenomenon, and Holland hasn’t left his day job recording with the Offspring—but then again, Smash was supposed to be a local indie release and ended up selling 16 million records. And Holland hopes—knows—Gringo Bandito’s best days are just beginning.

“Gringo is really good—I like it,” says Diane Snyder, Whole Foods’ regional grocery buyer for the Southern California market. “Has a good flavor. He hit it on the head. By the movement that I see of Gringo Bandito at our stores, it’s selling. The customers have decided that they like it.”

Next Page »