How Far Can Dexter Holland's Gringo Bandito Go?

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

Before McCollum, most of Gringo Bandito’s sales were at a couple of stores and via a website. Most of the restaurants that carried the hot sauce were in Huntington Beach or run by people enamored with the Offspring. It was always done person-to-person, slowly. But under McCollum, the brand has doubled the number of restaurants that carry bottles. He convinced Albertsons to sell the sauce in all its Southern California locations instead of just a Huntington Beach branch whose manager knew Holland’s friend and was a huge Offspring fan. McCollum secured the Whole Foods and Mother’s accounts. At one point, he even secretly followed distribution trucks on their early-morning routes, waking up at 5 a.m. to note where they dropped off produce. “I got caught once—the guy was mad at me until I gave him a bottle,” he admits.

Production started to increase—from one batch per month of 100 gallons to two—as word-of-mouth grew and Gringo Bandito’s decision to make the label into a sticker paid off, as it became increasingly popular across Huntington Beach and in the county’s surfing community. Holland eventually found Da’Kine and hired Arriaga to oversee production. He continued to deseed alongside Arriaga until last year, when the increase in production—by then, it was 150 gallons twice per month—and the Offspring’s tour forced Holland to step back a bit.

“We don’t do advertising,” McCollum says. “The clichéd thing to say is that it’s the punk-rock way. But seriously, the best way to advertise it is to put it in people’s mouths. We Google any mention of the sauce, and if someone says something nice, we’ll get in contact with them and send them a free bottle. What happens is that the person will be so touched that they’ll tell their friends. And then they’ll buy it to try it, and then buy it again.”

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

But McCollum also uses different strategies depending on where he’s hawking. “At Albertsons, I’ll try the local angle—‘Try a locally made product,’” he says. “With younger people, I push the Dexter-Offspring angle. At Mother’s, we do the all-natural angle. At Whole Foods, I do the gluten-free angle.” Asked to explain the latter, McCollum says that one question he usually fields from shoppers at Whole Foods is whether Gringo Bandito is gluten-free. He pulls out a page filled with small gold-colored stickers that say, “Gluten-Free.”

“We started putting that on the bottles at Whole Foods, and we noticed it sells faster that way,” McCollum says. “Almost all hot sauces are gluten-free, but hey, that little touch—any angle we can find.

“We want to get Gringo really big, but not just yet,” he adds. “Our goal this year is to double sales. It’s a five-man operation right now, which is a good thing. We want to keep a grasp on it, stabilize everything here before moving on to bigger things.”

The biggest problem McCollum says the company faces is theft—restaurants keep reporting that consumers steal Gringo Bandito bottles. “When they’re free, it’s no big deal,” McCollum says. “But if you’re paying for it, that’s a problem. That’s our Achilles heel. We need to chain it to the table, put a magnet on it, something. We need to figure that one out.”

Holland grants McCollum autonomy but always keeps up with the Gringo Bandito business. “Ultimately, the sauce is all him—he has the final word on everything,” McCollum says. McCollum gets an e-mail from Holland every day and a visit once per week when he’s not on tour, and the two talk regularly on the phone.

“He’s always looking to make people happy,” says McCollum, who grew up listening to the Offspring. “We tried to get into the Sugar Shack, and the owner liked our sauce but didn’t want to carry us. The bottles say, ‘For God’s sake,’ and she’s very religious. I told that to Dexter, and he said, ‘Let’s make a special label just for her.’ We spent money to make a new printing plate that reads, ‘For Pete’s sake.’ Only for the Sugar Shack—every other bottle has the original God quote. That’s attention.”

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“We’ve had it almost since the beginning,” says Wing Lam, founder of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. “I know a lot of these bands from before they were big. I know they all have their hobbies—in Dexter’s case, it was hot sauce. I don’t know where he got it from, but who cares? It’s good.

“When he came to me, he needed places to carry it to add credibility,” Lam adds. “I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been a fan, and we should do something together.’” The relationship between Holland and Lam is such that Hungry Punker recently started bottling its second hot sauce: Mucho Aloha, found only at Wahoo’s, created to help them stave off the Gringo Bandito-theft problem.

“I’m not surprised it’s taken off,” Lam says. “It’s a good brand.”

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