How Far Can Dexter Holland's Gringo Bandito Go?

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

“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.”

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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.

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

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.

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.”

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.”

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