The creator of the beloved Sriracha chili sauce has threatened to move his troubled factory out of Irwindale, Calif., if the city government doesn’t stop acting “like a local king.”
David Tran says city officials aren’t working with him to find a solution to the odors his factory emits during production, which nearby residents say causes headaches and sore throats. City officials call Tran’s statements drastic.
“This seems very extreme,” says Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galante, “It’s disappointing giving that [officials] have explained that there are readily available solutions.”
Tran owns Huy Fong Foods Inc., named after the ship that brought Tran and his family from Vietnam to the United States. He founded Huy Fong Foods in 1980 and started producing the popular Sriracha chili sauce in 1983. He's an old-fashioned businessman who openly admits his recipe (but says you can't make it as good as he does) and has relied entirely on word-of-mouth advertising to build a multimillion dollar business.
He opened the Irwindale factory in 2010 to keep up with increasing demands for Sriracha and his three other sauces. Locals filed a lawsuit against the company in late 2013 for the odors the factory emits during production. Nearby resident say the fumes are so strong that it makes their eyes water.
The city designated his factory a public nuisance last week, which gives Tran 90 days to fix the fumes or have officials come install the smell-stopping technology themselves.
Tran says the lawsuit and public nuisance designation could directly affect his business, which relies on a pepper harvest this fall. That’s when the plant emits the strongest fumes. From August to October, Huy Fong Foods workers immediately crush and mix freshly harvested chilis, a practice that Tran says is a key part of the quality of his world-famous Sriracha chili sauce.
Up to 40 trucks worth of newly harvested chilis arrive at the Irwindale plant every day during that period. All from the one grower Tran has exclusively worked with for the past thirty years. If Tran decided to move, he may have to find a new grower, which –GASP- could affect the taste of Sriracha.
Still, Tran is ready to pack it up and he’s not short of possible hosts. Politicians and business owners from 10 states and across California have offered Tran a new home. Jason Villalba, a Texas state rep took to Facebook to let Tran and his family know they were welcome to open shop in the Lone Star State.
Villalba argued that the evidence that fumes have reached the level of a public nuisance is “limited at best,” later claiming “simply put, this would not happen in Texas. I implore the Tran Family: just meet with us. Let us tell you what is possible by moving your operations to Texas. You will not be disappointed.”
Luckily for Sriracha fans (and the potential Sriracha neighbors in Texas), Tran would prefer to stay in Irwindale. Considering the size and capabilities of the Irwindale facility, that’s no surprise. Tran’s son and company president William Tran said back in 2010 that the 23-acre Irwindale complex would allow the company to produce 200 million bottles a year if necessary.
Irwindale too was excited about the new facility back in 2010. City manager Sol Benudiz said it will create jobs and have other positive impacts on the community. So far however, Sriracha is only irritating Irwindale city officials, both literally and figuratively.