WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — When you first tried Texas Pete hot sauce, where did you think it was from? Texas? North Carolina? How about the small community of Texas, North Carolina?
A class action lawsuit filed against T.W. Garner Food Co., the maker of Texas Pete hot sauce, has drawn a mythic coastal community into the fray as the legal battle enters its seventh month.
Filed by plaintiff Phillip White on Sept. 12, the lawsuit claims that T.W. Garner Food Co. is deceptively marketing Texas Pete as a Texan product when it’s actually made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. White’s complaint, filed on behalf of all people in the U.S. who have purchased Texas Pete, asks the court to force Texas Pete to change its name and branding and to pay up.
T.W. Garner Food Co. filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Nov. 10, including one particular line that sparked a fiery rebuttal from the plaintiff’s legal team.
“The mere fact that the brand name Texas Pete contains a reference to Texas does not create a presumption that reasonable consumers would be misled into believing that the product was manufactured in the State of Texas,” the motion to dismiss reads. “Indeed, there exists a coastal town of Texas, North Carolina, where consumers could conclude that the product is made.”
Texas, North Carolina
Little information is public about the alleged town of Texas, North Carolina. Google searches do not yield much, but a few obscure websites place the town in Camden County, including one that lists the area as one of 15 places in America with the name Texas.
Texas, North Carolina, appears to be located in the area of Texas Road in the unincorporated Shiloh Township in Camden County. It sits right on the shore of Albemarle Sound and southeast of Elizabeth City, across the Pasquotank River.
If you haven’t heard of Texas, N.C., you wouldn’t be alone. FOX8 reached out to the Camden County Library and spoke with Branch Manager Alfreda Gordon who said that she has never heard of the community of Texas despite having lived in the Shiloh area for more than 40 years.
The history of Shiloh Township presented on the Camden County website leaves no mention of the elusive North Carolina Texans.
But U.S. Geological Survey maps appear to reaffirm the community’s existence. Maps identify the area as “Texas” beginning in 1953, though reference to the community disappeared in maps dated after 2013. The maps place Texas as being south of Old Trap, a community whose history is well documented on the Camden County website.
A reputation for spice?
On March 13, White’s legal team filed their opposition to the proposed dismissal, drawing issue specifically with the idea that someone could falsely assume that Texas Pete is from Texas, North Carolina.
Could that misinterpretation happen? “Perhaps,” White’s legal team writes. “But the existence of ‘other’ interpretations, especially fanciful ones, is no basis on which this Court can decide, conclusively, that Plaintiff’s interpretation is unreasonable.”
Later, they add that there is one key difference between the State of Texas and Texas, North Carolina.
“‘Texas, North Carolina is not renowned for spicy cuisine or hot sauce, but the State of Texas is,” White’s team writes. “Plus, if consumers could conclude the product is made in a virtually unknown town of Texas, North Carolina, then they could reasonably conclude the product is made in the State of Texas.”
Gordon told FOX8 she knows of no history of the hot sauce industry in Shiloh Township.
Where this all started
Philip White was at a Ralph’s in Los Angeles when he bought a $3 bottle of Texas Pete back in September 2021, according to the initial complaint.
“White relied upon the language and images displayed on the front label of the Product, and at the time of purchase understood the Product to be a Texas product,” the complaint said.
The label includes “the famed white ‘lone’ star from the Texan flag together with a ‘lassoing’ cowboy,” images White’s complaint says are distinctly Texan.
To his shock, he later discovered that Texas Pete is not a product of Texas. In the complaint, he added that Texas Pete is a Louisiana-style hot sauce, not a distinctly Texan style, and does not use Texan ingredients.
In the product’s history, T.W. Garner Food Co. says the name was meant to evoke Texas’ reputation for spicy cuisine. The titular Texas Pete character is named after Sam Garner’s son Harold whose nickname is Pete.
Garner Foods acknowledged the suit in a statement to Nexstar’s FOX8: “We are aware of the current lawsuit that has been filed against our company regarding the Texas Pete® brand name. We are currently investigating these assertions with our legal counsel to find the clearest and most effective way to respond.”