Today, OC lost one of its unsung cultural heroes–a big idea man, legendary goofball and beloved, behind-the-scenes architect that helped companies like Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Black Flys and Vans Warped Tour become household names. Ed Santos, better known by his media persona RockDaMullet, died this morning in his current hometown of Indiana due to complications with the flu and pneumonia after being in a medically induced coma for several days. He was 51.
The Cerritos native spent years being an artistic renaissance man in OC both as an artists, marketing whiz and all around creative whose trademark look– back length mullet, tribal ear plug piercings and black shades–made him an easily recognizable presence at Wahoo’s events, festivals, concerts and especially in the world of MySpace where he grew a massive following to match his outlandish hairdo. Starting with Wahoo’s founder Wing Lam in the early 2000s (Lam first opened the chain’s first restaurant in Costa Mesa in 1988), Santos worked with the company from the late ‘90s until 2014. After Wahoo’s, Santos also helped run United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association before packing up and moving his family to Indiana in order to give his autistic daughter in a more quiet, rural life away from all of the SoCal craziness he’d been a part of for years.
Santos’ ability to master guerilla marketing techniques that identified with younger, more diverse customers around OC gave Wahoo’s its maverick edge in the fast casual dining world and appealed to the style and taste of a changing tide in local culture that would later be mimicked in other parts of the world. It was food that appealed to surfers, athletes, business suit types and punk rockers alike.
“I started going to events with Wing and I started to learn a lot more in the world of marketing but more guerilla marketing, not your standard, text book marketing,” Santos said in a video interview in 2013. “And through that teaching I was able to develop networking relationships and I was able to marry art with relation marketing and branding and networking and tying all that in together in the world of social media before there was even a name for it. I was somehow able to figure this mess out.”
One of his first ideas for Wahoo’s was inspired by his previous job working in sticker production at Black Flys. He literally used every wall of Lam’s restaurants as marketing canvases for action sports brands, slapping wall-to-wall collages of their stickers all around the restaurant. That style helped sell the Wahoo’s brand to the people involved in those industries. Inevitably, Wahoo’s would also appear at any local action sports events and concerts which helped it become one of the first restaurants that was also doubling as a lifestyle brand, similar to what Black Flys became.
As news of Santos’ passing spread, an outpouring of support for Santos and his family on social media speaks to the lasting presence he had on local culture even though he hadn’t been around for several years. The week before his death, Santos posted three times on Instagram about his failing health–the final post being the most concerning.
“They asked if I had a living will and trust already. Why the F would anyone be asking that.” he writes.
Keep em coming prayer warriors. Much ❤️ and social thanks to my wife who’s sat up all night to monitor my breathing. If this continues, they are looking at ICU by tonight.”
A GoFundMe campaign set up yesterday by his younger brother Nelson detailed Ed’s rapidly declining health. Unfortunately, Santos never recovered.
“These unexpected severe conditions are rapidly deteriorating Ed’s health. We’re fearing for the worst, but excessively praying for a miracle,” Nelson writes. “Much needed support from everyone who knows him personally, knew him from the past and following him on social media is needed more than I can ever hope for.”
Santos is survived by his wife Missy, his daughter Abcde, and son Jared “Robert”.