By OC Weekly Staff
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Kiera Wright-Ruiz
By Cleo Tobbi
Arriaga is the quality-control director for Hungry Punker Inc., the official company that produces Gringo Bandito. She makes the orders for ingredients, checks for ingredient quality—if a pepper is bruised or blackened, Arriaga makes sure to cut out the bad part or toss it altogether—and even takes into account the changing seasons to ensure she stocks up on peppers before they stop growing. She’s proud that the sauce is all-natural, using no preservatives, extracts, concentrates or powders. “Natural is better,” Arriaga says, “but it takes more time to do right. If you don’t have the patience, it all comes out bad. It’s like cooking una olla de frijoles [a pot of beans]. If you put the heat on too high, they’ll come out bad. Do it slowly, and it’s wonderful.”
More than anyone working for Gringo Bandito, Arriaga is the least surprised at its existence. “I’ve been seeing Dexter eat for more than 10 years. My god, he loves salsa!” she says proudly. The Santa Ana resident first got to know Holland at family gatherings where she helped prepare food. “I would always see him tasting different salsas, looking at them, studying them. Eventually, I would hear him say, ‘I want to make salsa. Will you help me?’ Of course. Over the years, I’d tease him—’So when are we going to start?’ He’d always say he’s too busy. Finally, one day, he asked me, ‘I want to make a salsa. Can you help me?’ Of course!”
This was shortly after Holland had wowed the Nitro Records staff with his homemade recipe. For about eight months, two to three times per week, three hours per day, Holland and Arriaga would work in his kitchen, mixing and tweaking. Arriaga employed her knowledge of Mexican food, but she stresses it was Holland’s vision that created the final product. “He noticed most hot sauces had too much salt already and that a lot of people liked to eat chips with their hot sauce,” she points out. “So we reduced the salt, which not only made it taste better, but it was also healthier. Little things like that showed he was serious.”
Once Holland decided to begin selling Gringo Bandito, he realized he needed to rent a commercial kitchen to produce it properly. But since no one involved with the hot sauce had any experience with food production, Holland learned on the fly.
“Want to start a hot sauce?” Holland asks half-seriously. “Start a band. We started it DIY, not just as a philosophy, but out of necessity. That’s how we started Gringo Bandito. No consultants, just us.”
He found a kitchen—in Yreka, just outside the Klamath National Forest in Northern California. “We’d go to kitchens ’round here, and they’d all run away. I only wanted to use natural products—I didn’t want to waste my time on concentrates. We tried using those, and they just don’t have the same flavor. But most of the hot-sauce industry uses concentrates nowadays, and I found out that most kitchens aren’t used to working with fresh produce.”
Holland took Arriaga and others to Yreka in his jet, flying out from Long Beach Airport and spending the whole day making sauce, returning with boxes filled with bottles. “That was the closest kitchen I could find—besides, it was fun. It’s the adventure—fuck, yeah, we’ll fly up there to make some hot sauce.”
Gringo Bandito debuted in late 2006, entering the curiously overcrowded world of musical-celebrity hot sauces. Lynrd Skynrd have a brand, as do Patti LaBelle and Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony; there’s even Joe Perry’s Rock Your World Hot Sauce. It received bemused media reactions—this writer promptly threw the first bottle he received in the trash can, while The Onion included it in a survey of “B-list-celebrity-endorsed foodstuffs,” deriding his celebrity as “middling” and placing him in the same category as a Steven Seagal energy drink and a hot sauce produced by the only person ever to get a perfect score in Pac-Man.
“Dexter’s celebrity helps, sure,” says Matt McCollum, head of sales and marketing for Hungry Punker. “But not as much as people think. I’ll see the hesitation people have about the sauce—they’ll say, ‘I don’t want to try some gringo sauce.’ But then you give them a bit, and it all changes. That’s why we have to get people talking about the sauce and not about Dexter.”
* * *
The headquarters for Gringo Bandito are located in a Huntington Beach industrial park, next to the Offspring’s recording studio and not far from where Holland lives. The blinds are usually shut, and even the reception area shows no indication that this is where Gringo Bandito operates. Only when you enter the office—really, a small warehouse about as big as a school classroom, with one wall used by the Offspring members to stack their equipment—is there any indication that the business here is hot sauce.
The business is small—a receptionist, a taciturn guy who spends most of his time handling the logistics of shipping orders, and McCollum. His official title is head of sales and marketing, but he jokes that Dexter’s usual name for him is “hot-sauce guy” or “shit worker.” His job is the definition of multitasking—meeting with restaurants and grocery stores to pitch the sauce, standing outside the same restaurants and grocery stores handing out free samples, making deliveries of bottles, even picking up the hundreds of pounds of chiles that go into Gringo Bandito. For this, he uses the Toyota truck Holland has had since high school and that served as the Offspring’s original transportation. The Dallas native has been with the brand for three and a half years, a time that has seen Gringo Bandito grow way beyond Holland’s expectations.