Meet David Tran, Founder of Huy Fong Foods, home of Sriracha. An immigrant. A self-made man. The Hero of Sriracha-Gate. With a 650,000 sq. ft. factory and over 100 million pounds of red jalapeno peppers ground and stored in there each year, the Willie Wonka of red pepper sauce sure made his vision come true. Now everyone can get The Golden Ticket to Mr. Tran’s factory, because anyone can get a tour.
Huy Fong Foods is the namesake of the Taiwanese freighter, Huey Fong, which brought over Sriracha Founder David Tran to America alongside a couple thousand other refugees. The company has been making its pepper-sauce in the Los Angeles since 1980 starting off in a small 5,000 sq. ft. space in Chinatown, then moving it to a larger space in Rosemead, then, finally, the factory moved into a 650,000 sq. ft. space in Irwindale. The complete space became fully operational by 2014.
This all for people’s love for Sriracha.
Then “Sriracha-Gate” happened. Bam! After complaints of burning eyes and headaches, people of the Irwindale neighborhood became suspicious and rumors of the factory churning out tear gas ensued. The City of Irwindale tried to shut the factory down, but to no avail. Mr. Tran did his best to accommodate the community’s concerns and it worked.
That’s when he started offering the tours. He wanted to prove: “No Tear Gas Made Here.” Boldly, this is exactly what is stated on a banner in front of the building as visitors walk in. The banner isn’t so much for the visitors as it’s considered more of an inside joke with the employees.
It was happenstance that day I found out about the tour, and instantly a friend came to mind while considering someone to take the tour along with me. I knew this would be right up her alley.
Kelly is the Sriracha Queen. Sriracha on her rice. Sriracha on her fries. Sriracha on her vegetables. I haven’t seen it, but I bet you she would sneak a few squeezes of Sriracha on some caviar too.
I was right. Up her alley it is, and she’s just a bit beyond excited.
The Huy Fong Foods, Inc. company gives tours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday between the hours of 11 and 3. A reservation must be made before and you can’t be sick. So don’t even think of walking in with a sniffle or a cough or they just might turn you away. Closed-toe shoes must be worn, and be prepared to stuff your hair into a cap. Men too. The best thing is that aside from the gas you spend to get out there, this excursion is free.
The day of our adventure arrives and it’s the perfect day for a factory tour. Kind of rainy. Kind of not. Typical for a January in Los Angeles…or, er… Irwindale.
The lobby is decorated with Chinese New Year – it’s gorgeous. I ask about it and they whip out a pamphlet on what the decorations symbolize and their importance. On February 8th, the pamphlet says, the Year of the Monkey begins.
After I sign the “I’m not sick and I have clean clothes on” disclosure, I’m lead into a “Training Room” where I wait for Kelly. There’s a video playing on the history of the factory and hanging on the walls are pictures of celebrities, astronauts and sports stars holding up or dripping that Sriracha all over food. That training room, we’re told, is a dance studio. Because Mr. Tran loves to dance, he always wanted a dance studio. There they have lessons from time to time and the employee are free to go in there and let loose.
After everyone is gathered in the Training Room, we’re escorted out to a tram to take us around the property. As we approach the big gates to the factory, I’m reminded of Willie Wonka and his Chocolate Factory and I kind of feel like a little kid again. I have never been in a factory before.
We find out we just missed pepper-grinding season. We missed it by two months. The season is from June/July to November. They usually have a huge open house to kick off the pepper grinding season, it’s open to the community, again, to reassure them that: No Tear Gas is Made Here. You must sign up for this event in advance.
We start at the beginning of the process and start at the washing and grinding peppers location.
We see how the peppers are stored.
We walk by the mixing room. There are only allowed two people in the room at any given time. This keeps the sanitation issues under control. So we can’t go in.
We see where the sauce is packaged up. Fun fact: Huy Fong Foods manufactures their own bottles. The bottle starts out to be about a 2 inch size and once the sauce is thrown in there, it plumps up to the Sriracha bottle we all know. It’s pretty crafty and “how did they do that” worthy.
The peppers are stored here. Another fun fact: the factory is flooded with 7% natural light through those skylights up there.
We witness how the sauce is shipped out. Before the Sriracha is shipped out, there is a 34 day hold after packaging. A government representative comes in and tests it once a week and then will give it a “go” to get shipped out. This is because in case there was any bacteria trapped in the sauce, it would die off within 34 days. Precautionary measure.
After the tour, of course, it is an exit through the gift shop.
It is a tough choice deciding what to buy in that gift shop. Should I…should I not? It is between the cock-shirt and the bag of popcorn. I mean, what would my kids think of that cock-shirt? So I buy the popcorn.
And our adventure ends with a free Sriracha in tow and discussing our experience over coffee. We can’t find much around there for lunch. So, of course, we end up at the nearest Starbucks. Lucky for me, I get to drive against traffic to get to get back home.
Go to the Huy Fong Inc. site for the contact number to book a tour. The factory is located at 4500 Azusa Cyn. Road, Irwindale, CA
The Metro Gold Line will start running to the Irwindale station starting March 5, 2016. Then call up an uber to get to the site. Or, better still, get your exercise and take the two and a half mile walk.
By the way, Sriracha now comes in convenience sized packets. They want to be the new ketchup. So they’re catching themselves up.