Dan Ballister was never an All-American in any of the sports he tried growing up.
But he is the ringleader for a small group of golf-loving, cigar-smoking friends and U.S. service veterans who grabbed a moment at an Army-Navy football game tailgate to build a company that likes to be grassroots American in everything it does.
At a large tailgate for the 2012 Army-Navy football, this group of golf friends asked: “Why don’t we start a business that donates most of its profits to military and veteran families?” A ranking General, who cooked wings at the tailgate, walked by the conversation with a freshly prepared tray, and someone shouted: “That guy deserves his own hot sauce.” By the way, The General’s name is a secret by a strict company code.
Ballister, a Navy graduate and surface warfare officer, volunteered to run with the idea and promised a product for the 2013 game. Using the business acumen, he developed in more than 20 years in the digital media and internet advertising technology industries, he individually cobbles together seven cases of hot sauce in 5 oz. bottles. He presented the new product at the 2013 Army-Navy tailgate to outstanding reviews. Within a year, with financial backing from his tailgating/golfing group, The General’s Hot Sauce is born.
“We wanted to help military and veteran families, and we wanted a side project to work on together as we all got older, so it seemed like a pretty good combo,” Ballister said. “It’s since developed into something a lot bigger and a lot more fun than we could’ve imagined.”
The Columbia, S.C.-based company is veteran-owned and operated, with its three key leadership positions held by Marine veterans. They are known as The Committee: Dillon Cox in business development, Chris Behling in finance, and Steve Osegueda in operations.
TGHS supports the American farmer, creates jobs for veterans, and, true to its mission, donates a meaningful percentage of its profits to military and veteran families. All of its peppers are grown at local and regional farms.
“On July 4th, I actually had a stroke and was out of commission for a couple of weeks, and they immediately stepped up and continued to run and grow the business,” Ballister said. “Besides writing donation checks, that’s definitely been the most rewarding part because it’s such a personal experience and I get to live it every day.”
The General’s Hot Sauce produces seven varieties of hot sauce that all contain 86% actual peppers when the industry standard is only 20%, declaring: “A lot of what we do is manual, old-school work. It’s decidedly inefficient, but it’s worth it.” Their newest product, The General’s Bee Sting, debuts in November.
The General’s Hot Sauce lives by its motto – “A Great Sauce For The Greater Good,” In the most recent Inc 5000rankings, it ranked 757th nationally for fastest growing, privately held small businesses.
“It’s important to us because we can never do enough to support returning veterans and their families and every bit matters,” Ballister said. “Since we formed the business we’ve enabled the gifting of well over half a million dollars to help veterans. We were even writing some smaller donation checks before we were even profitable just based on principle. Thankfully we have great investors, most of them USNA grads, and the more we grow, the more our ability to donate will grow with it.”
The company, a perfect MBA case study for small businesses, was founded by Ballister and his golf buddies, who have served as volunteers at several Walker Cup Matches, including 2015 2015 at Royal Lytham and 2019 at Royal Liverpool. They also attended at The National Golf Links in 2013 and Los Angeles CC in 2017. They credit many of their critical company decisions in the early stages to their ‘walk-and-talks’ while on the golf course.
All of the authentic all-natural sauces are packaged in glass bottles shaped like hand grenades, which recently garnered some national PR when a careless traveler tried to bring a bottle of ‘Danger Close’ through airport security.
“You can’t make up that kind of story,” Ballister said. “We are just grateful that our packaging is getting a little bit of attention.”
Leave it to a smart alec golf nut to underestimate the sales pitch.