Who Invented Tapatio? (Invention Timeline Explained)

People love to add garnishes to their food to personalize the eating experience. For example, some people love adding catsup, some add mustard, and some love putting globs of hot sauce. It’s up to the person’s preference what they would add to enhance the flavor profile of the food they’re about to eat. 

It’s also no surprise that there are people who love spicy food. They want that kick in their palate that only peppers and other spicy things could provide. That’s why it’s always a welcome sight for them whenever there’s hot sauce on the table. They know they could enjoy their fill of food to their particular spice tolerance. 

Tapatio hot sauce is one such condiment that has quite the following. It’s a great brand of hot sauce that provides a good amount of spiciness and flavor that people can enjoy. It is also a niche product that has captured its market share and continues to flourish. 

In this article, we’ll take a quick dive into the origins of Tapatio hot sauce and how it’s come to be a favorite for so many people worldwide. 

Who invented Tapatio?

Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr., started his company in 1971 and specialized in the production of Tapatio Hot Sauce. The company’s beginnings were modest as they started production in a leased 750-square-foot building in Maywood, California. They only produced a 5-oz bottle at first, but as time went by, they innovated based on the feedback they received from their clientele. 

Saavedra, Sr. held two part-time jobs as he started the company. At first, the hot sauce’s name was Cuervo as Saavedra’s wife Dolores was directly related to the Jose Cuervo family. He decided that it was a catchy name, but within four years, they were sued by the company selling Cuervo products. They settled the matter amicably, and Saavedra, Sr., decided to market the product under the name Charro. It turned out it was another name that was already taken, although the State of California didn’t have any records of it. He decided that since his three kids were all born in Guadalajara, he’d appropriate the name Tapatio as it was the name for someone with roots in the locale.   

Tapatio’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Dolores Saavedra
    Matriarch concocted the original recipe for the hot sauce 

    Dolores Saavedra came up with the recipe for the hot sauce in the late 1960s, which she and her husband sold in batches out of their family home.

  • Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr
    Patriarch shared and sold hot sauce to his coworkers and started the company 

    Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr., initially shared and sold hot sauce to his coworkers in the aerospace manufacturer. He later started the company and specialized in producing the product in 1971.

  • Certified Grocers of California (Unified Western Grocers Inc.)
    Largest food distributor in the Western US Coast placed an initial order of 25 cases for  in 1976.

    The largest food distributor on the US West Coast placed an initial order of 25 cases for  Hot Sauce and began a strong relationship with the company that helped open opportunities for expansion.

  • Saavedra siblings
    Saavedra siblings Luis, Dolores McCoy, and Jacqueline Mora graduated in various fields and came back to work for the company in different capacities to help its continued expansion.

    The Saavedra siblings, Luis, Dolores, and Jacqueline, all graduated from college and returned to work for the company in different capacities to help the enterprise expand.

  • Enrique Iglesias
    Popular comedian teamed up with Tapatio for special collaboration bottle

    Popular standup comedian Enrique “Fluffy” Iglesias, one of the biggest influencers in the Hispanic community, teamed up with the company for a special collaboration bottle. The team-up helped the company expand its reach and strengthen its client base.

When was Tapatio invented?

Tapatio matriarch Dolores Saavedra came up with the recipe for the hot sauce in the late 1960s. First, she and Jose-Luis, Sr. sold them in batches out of their home. Then, Jose-Luis, Sr., would share and sell the product to his colleagues in the local aerospace manufacturing plant. When the plant closed, the elder Saavedra decided to put up the company in 1971 out of a leased 750-square-foot building in Maywood, California.  

A brief history of Tapatio

During the late 1960s, Tapatio matriarch Dolores Saavedra came up with the recipe for the famous hot sauce. She and her husband sold the product in batches out of their home. Since Jose-Luis, Sr. worked in the local aerospace manufacturing plant, he shared and sold the product with his colleagues. However, the plant closed because of the recession, leaving Saavedra, Sr., without any job but with people clamoring for the product. So Dolores encouraged him to sell the hot sauce. 

Saavedra, Sr., decided to put up the company in 1971. The company’s beginnings were pretty modest as it started in a leased 750-square-foot building in Maywood, California. Saavedra, Sr., had to take two part-time jobs to pay for the rent. Initially, they produced 5-oz bottles of hot sauce and marketed it under the brand Cuervo. In the beginning, they made the hot sauce manually and bottled them individually, one at a time. Jose-Luis, Sr., had a difficult time at the start as he had to accept consignment terms for his product. However, things began to look up when a local Japanese-owned grocery ordered a batch of 10 cases, or 240 bottles, which was quite a substantial number back then. They also catered to Certified Grocers of California, who ordered an initial batch of 25 cases.  

Saavedra’s wife Dolores had family ties with the company selling Cuervo tequila, so he thought it would be a great name. However, within two years of the company using the name, the parent company of Cuervo tequila sued them. The two companies settled the matter amicably, with Cuervo agreeing to buy the name rights for a substantial sum. Saavedra turned and used the money to purchase processing equipment to help the company expand its operations. 

Saavedra then decided to use the name Charro to market the hot sauce. However, the company was again sued, although the State of California said they didn’t have any records for the name. As a result, Saavedra decided to use the name Tapatio to honor his three children, who all were born in Guadalajara. The term tapatio means a person who traces his roots to Guadalajara. They still had to fight off a claim from industry giants Con Agra and Del Monte Foods regarding the name, but the company set a legal precedent in California and got to use the name. The brand name stuck, and the company continued its expansion.

In 1985, with the company continuously growing, Saavedra moved the enterprise to a bigger location less than a mile from its original site. The company was now housed in an 8,500-square-foot facility, and with the Saavedra siblings all out of college, they began to work for the company in various capacities. In 1988, with the increasing demand for a bigger bottle, the company came up with a 10 oz. The year after, the company introduced a quart-sized bottle which was widely accepted. 

In 1996, with the company experiencing record growth, they bought land and custom-built a 30,000-square-foot facility complete with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Saavedra also pursued providing the clients with exceptional customer service to back up their superior product. 

In 1997, the company released a new label, giving them more brand recognition. In 1999, they continued to expand their production and came up with a gallon-sized container which became popular among the food service industries, especially in sporting arenas and fairs. Then, responding to the demand for smaller packets, the company released 7-gram individual packets, which allowed them to capture more of the fast-food restaurants. In 2016, the company collaborated with BIGS to come up with Tapatio Sunflower Seeds, and the company also released its line of premium meats. In 2021, in line with the 50th anniversary, the company teamed up with standup comedian Enrique Iglesias for a special collaboration bottle that helped the company expand its reach. 

Tapatio timeline

  1. Late 1960s
    Matriarch Dolores came up with the recipe for  hot sauce

    Dolores Saavedra came up with the recipe for  hot sauce in their home in Maywood, California. She and Jose-Luis, Sr., sold the product out of their home and to his colleagues in the local aerospace manufacturing plant in Vernon.

  2. 1971 – 1979
    Patriarch established the parent company.

    Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr., fresh out of layoff, established the company upon the encouragement of Dolores. They began operations in a rented 750-square-foot warehouse in Maywood. The company also faced several legal concerns and logistics problems along the way.

  3. 1980s-1990s
    Company overcame various obstacles for expansion

    The company posted gains through the years, enabling them to expand operations and provide products based on client demands.

  4. 2000s – present 
    Company continued to respond to industry demands

    The company continued to respond to industry demands as they developed various products to cater to different client needs.

Where was Tapatio invented?

Matriarch Dolores Saavedra came up with the recipe for Tapatio hot sauce in their modest home in Maywood, California, in the late 1960s. She and her husband, Jose-Luis, Sr., sold them in batches out of their home and to his colleagues in the local aerospace manufacturing plant in Vernon. 

The importance of Tapatio

  • It provided employment in Maywood

    Although limited initially in employees, Saavedra’s company grew and provided employment in Maywood, California.

  • It highlighted the need for hot sauce

    Saavedra’s Tapatio Hot Sauce highlighted the market’s need for a quality product that doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds.

  • Tapatio responded to client demands.

    Initially, the company only produced five oz bottles, but through the years, they listened to their clientele and provided 10 oz bottles, quart-sized bottles, one-gallon containers, and 7g packets.

  • Tapatio opened industry collaboration.

    Tapatio collaborated with Fritos, Doritos, and other companies and personalities for special product bottles and releases.

Tapatio by the numbers

  • The content of the smallest packets of Tapatio hot sauce available on the market is 7 grams.
  • Tapatio hot sauce also caters to food service industries, providing them with 1-gallon product containers. 
  • 3000 Tapatio hot sauce doesn’t overpower the taste buds. Unfortunately, the product only registers at 3000 Scoville heat units, making it hotter than sriracha, Anaheim, poblano, pepperoncini, and bell peppers. 
  • 2011This was the year Tapatio-flavored Doritos, Fritos, and Ruffles entered the market in the US.

Five facts about Tapatio

  • Tapatio wasn’t the original brand name.

    Saavedra initially marketed the hot sauce under the brand Cuervo. However, after two years, the company that made Cuervo tequila sued them. They settled the legal concern amicably.

  • Tapatio recipe is an industry secret.

    Although the ingredients are on the label, up to now, the recipe for Tapatio hot sauce is a well-kept secret that only a few people know.

  • Saavedra isn’t the man in the label.

    The man in the Tapatio label introduced in 1997 isn’t Saavedra but an artist’s rendering of what a dignified charro would look like.

  • Dolores did trial-and-error before she came up with the recipe.

    Although the ingredients are known, Dolores and Jose-Luis experimented on hundreds of recipes before they settled on the one recipe for . 

  • The company fought off various legal cases for the name.

    Originally called Cuervo, and later on, Charro, the parent company had to weather several legal concerns about the name. Finally, they settled on Tapatio but had to fight off industry giants Con Agra and Del Monte Foods to use the name.

FAQs about Tapatio

  • What is the shelf life for Tapatio?

    The product doesn’t have an expiration date. However, for the best flavor, it is best consumed within two years of opening the package.

  • How many ingredients are in Tapatio?

    Up to now, only a handful of people know the exact recipe for the hot sauce. It is a closely guarded secret.

  • Is Tapatio healthy?

    Tapatio doesn’t contain gluten. It also doesn’t contain sugar and is also MSG-free, so it is healthy.

  • Do you need to refrigerate Tapatio hot sauce?

    It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. However, the product quality will remain the same even if you put it inside the refrigerator. 

  • Why is Tapatio hot sauce famous?

    Tapatio hot sauce is famous because it provides enough spice but doesn’t overpower the taste buds. It only has a 3000 Scoville heat scale rating, making it hotter than Sriracha sauce. 

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