Sriracha Sauce has acquired what could be called a cult following. Cookbooks, memorabilia and even a documentary have been dedicated to the Vietnamese-style sauce that some say they put on everything. In its 33 year history, the wildly popular spicy condiment has grown into an $80 million business. However, little is known about the history behind the sauce. In many ways, the story of Sriracha sauce is a love story.
Recently, the company, Huy Fong, and it’s CEO, David Tran, have been in the news due to a dispute with neighbors of the factory in Irwindale, California. The smell of the peppers has become a nuisance that has proven to be a problem for local government. Legal actions, proposed fixes and even a partial shutdown have made doing business very difficult for Tran. He says that he escaped Vietnam 35 years ago to get away from Communist rule. This experience has reminded him of his past.
After several months of disputes and even being courted by other municipalities who would embrace the company, Tran has announced that his company will stay where it is. The 600,000 square foot factory is only four years old. Tran designed it as a self-sufficient plant. The peppers are ground, the sauce is mixed and bottled all on-site. Needed repairs to the machines are all done on-site as well. As the story goes, the personally designed Sriracha sauce factory is Tran’s “loved one.”
However, the CEO is considering opening an additional factory somewhere outside of southern California. Over 20 cities offered themselves for a possible relocation for Huy Fong. Tran said that a second plant would help him keep up with the growing demand for his products. However, it would have to be a location that is conducive to growing peppers. He added that it would be beneficial to have an additional supplier of the jalapeño peppers used in his sauce. Also, he would be looking for a location that would not be so heavily regulated.
Texas State Representative Jason Villalba, from Dallas, visited Tran today in the hopes that the company would choose an appropriate second site in the Lone Star state. Though Villalba represents northern Texas, he said that San Antonio or a city in the Rio Grande Valley would be good candidates. Texas is known for not only being a business-friendly state, but for its love of all things related to hot peppers. Jalapeño peppers are a valuable crop in the state. The pairing of Sriracha Sauce and Texas could prove to be quite a love story in itself, as well as rather lucrative. But, is that what the owner of Huy Fong wants?
David Tran never intended on becoming a billionaire. When he started making his uniquely spicy chili sauce, he was motivated by the lack of such a product in his community in Los Angeles. He really just wanted to be afforded the ability to make enough sauce for anyone who wanted it. Now, everyone from college students to sushi chefs want Sriracha, sometimes referred to as rooster sauce.
Three outstanding aspects about the way Tran runs his business are likely why he has stepped so far out in front of his competitors: he only uses fresh peppers, he keeps a low profile, and he never advertises. He lets the product sell itself and clearly that is what has happened. In 2012, Huy Fong Sriracha sold 20 million bottles. There is a bottle on each counter at the Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City. In 2010, Bon Appétit magazine awarded the sauce with an ingredient of the year honor. As well, Cook’s Illustrated deemed it the best tasting hot sauce of 2012.
The hot sauce industry brings in more than $1 billion a year globally. Consumers take their hot sauce seriously. A great chili sauce can become a personal favorite for a lifetime. The Sriracha sauce love story is more than just a tale of a man and his chili sauce. It is a story for all who love to spice up their lives.
by Stacy Lamy