Holy Death!? Inside the Pleasant Grove Factory Pouring Mystical Candles for the World's Altars

Categories: Cover Story
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Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
Of all the didn't-quite-make-it-into-the-story facts I discovered while researching the botánica biz for this week's cover story on Chango Botánica in Oak Cliff, one of the most interesting discoveries was that many of the candles sold on the shelves of area botánicas are made right in our own backyard at Indio Products' Pleasant Grove candle factory.

Currently the Los Angeles-based company -- the "World's Most Complete Manufacturer & Distributor of Mystical Products" -- has a catalog of more than 8,500 items, but its best-selling products have always been the candles.

The company's candle factory is about a mile south of I-30 on Loop 12, across the street from the Coca-Cola bottling plant on East Point Drive. Indio pours the candles here, keeps some for local distribution and then ships the rest to California for distributing all over the world.

The day I visited the warehouse the company's president Martin Mayer just happened to be in town checking in on the facilities. (Read more about Indio, Mayer and the prayer candle biz in this 2007 article in The New York Times.) Mayer gave me a quick tour of the factory and explained why Indio Products moved the candle-pouring division of the company from L.A. to Dallas. In a nutshell: labor's cheaper here, and Exxon Mobil's oil refineries are close by in Baytown.

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"It's just easier to do business here than in California," Mayer said. "The labor costs were very high in the Long Beach area and the utilities are 50 percent less here, so we moved it out here."

Plus, he mentions they save a fortune on freight costs for their wax.

"We have candles for love, money, or things like court case candles, and candles for the lottery, and Santeria, and positive things like the spiritual candles," Mayer said. "We have about 350 different titles and combinations."

And the wax for those 350 different candles arrives at Indio in tanker trucks from Exxon Mobil refineries in Baytown. Each truck is filled with 45,000 pounds of white paraffin wax. Robert Horne, production manager of the candle factory, says they order two to three trucks of wax per week. They offload the wax, which is pre-heated to 150 degrees, by pumping it into the warehouse's main fill tank. From there the hot wax passes through tubes and either ends up in the colored fill tanks, or it stays in the main tank for white candles.

When they're ready to make a batch of candles, the wax is poured into the glass cylinders at about 160 degrees and placed into the boxes while the wax is still hot -- and, yes, they'll joke that they "hot box" the candles. They fill 2,000 cases a day on the main line alone. After the wax cools, the boxes are placed on palates, stretch wrapped and then shipped off to California or just a few hundred feet away to the company's other warehouse and Dallas-based distribution hub.

So, at 12 candles a case, 2,160 cases per truck, five trucks a week, the Dallas factory manufactures some 129,600 candles a week. Horne says about three and a half trucks' worth go to California. The rest stay here in Dallas.

One of the most popular candles nationwide is Santa Muerte.

"Santisma Muerte, Holy Death, is really big," Mayer says. "This is gonna be hard to believe, but this is really true. Santisma Muerte in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas and the whole country of Mexico actually sells better, in a candle, than the mother of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. For the last three years, that's how it's been."

Check out our slide show for more web-exclusive photos accompanying this week's cover story, from the back room of Chango Botanica.
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