Here’s the History of Tapatío Hot Sauce — And How It Was Once Sued by Jose Cuervo Alcohol for Sharing the Same Name
Let’s face it: Tapatío hot sauce makes everything better— whether talking tacos, chips, tamales, enchiladas, or even popcorn it takes any meal to another level. If you’re Tapatío’s number one fan, you might know all about the sauce’s delicious, spicy flavor, but its background story might surprise you.
Tapatío was founded in 1971 by Jose Luis Saavedra, 93, a man who was born in Mexico City and was living in Maywood, California at the time he started the brand. According to the Los Angeles Times, Saavedra actually began making his own hot sauce with his family in the 1960s while working as an aerospace manufacturer. When co-workers tried it, they urged him to sell the sauce to the general public.
By 1971, 40-year-old Saavedra was laid off from his job. He had no choice but to focus on his side hustle making hot sauce, and got to work.
As shared by TikToker @evanlovett, the founder started off in a 750-square-foot warehouse. He also bottled everything by hand, selling through consignment and earning money only if his sauce sold.
The founder’s son Luis Saavedra explained to The Hundreds that his father was initially laid off due to a “recession,” and worked two part-time jobs while pushing his hot sauce in order to make rent. Making things even more difficult, at the time he didn’t know much English either.
“Since my dad started the company, he said he had all strikes against him. First of all, he was over forty when he started and he didn’t have a great knowledge of the English language,” The son described. “He had no business background.”
The now 93-year-old made up for all those “strikes” with a rock-solid work ethic and a drive to find success with his very own American Dream. According to Lovett’s TikTok video, Saavedra continued to bottle the hot sauce himself using a funnel, placing the caps and labels on the bottles by hand. But he didn’t exactly do it all alone— he brought in his children to help out from a very young age.
The founder’s son recalled how his father would bring him into the plant alongside his sisters, Dolores and Jackie, to “fill the remaining orders for the next day.” He remembered. “We’d finish our homework and go to the plant. Sometimes we’d fall asleep on the stainless steel tables. That went on for about 4 years.”
The family-run business is still all about keeping things tight-knit, with all three of Saavedra’s children still working in the company.
Even the name Tapatío relates to his children, who were all born in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Saavedra’s son described to The Hundreds, people from the western Mexican city are often called Tapatío, so the founder decided to use the name “in honor of [his] kids.”
But it wasn’t always called Tapatío— believe it or not, the sauce’s initial name was Cuervo (yes, like the tequila). Unbelievably enough, the children’s mother, Dolores, had a direct relation to the family behind Jose Cuervo tequila, so they thought the name was a “catchy” family name. But the alcohol company soon sued them for the right to sell and advertise their tequila in California— a move that worked in Saavedra’s favor because they forked over enough money for him to continue to grow his brand.
They then tried the name “Charro” and got sued again, finally landing on the name Tapatío instead.
“[My father’s] biggest worry was, ‘How am I gonna feed my family?’” the founder’s daughter explained. “He couldn’t afford it, but he put all of us through private school. He used to take us to school every day and make sure we were picked up, make sure there was food on the table. Working, working, working.”
Meanwhile, the founder’s son Luis expanded on his father’s work ethic, saying, “The grit and the determination behind him is truly amazing. He will not take no for an answer.”
Saavedra Sr. still runs the company today, and told the Los Angeles Times, “I never want to be called a president or a CEO or whatever.” He made clear he prefers to run the hot sauce brand every day with his family.
He also chooses to remain hush-hush about the recipe and admits he still remembers trying “over hundreds” of formulations before settling on the one none of us can get enough of.
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