David Tran fled communist Vietnam in December 1978 on the Huey Fong, a Panamanian freighter that carried Tran and more than 3,000 other refugees to freedom. According to a 2013 profile in the LA TImes, Tran and his family settled in Los Angeles, where he soon realized he couldn’t find work or a hot sauce that he liked.
Tran began to make his own hot sauce and sold it in Chinatown. He named it after its place of origin (Si Racha, Thailand) and started a company in 1980, Huy Fong, which he named after the freighter that brought him to the United States.
In the late 1980s, Tran moved his operation east of LA to Rosemead, California, and the company opened a new factory in 2010 in nearby Irwindale.
After numerous complaints from neighbors about the smell and irritation, the city filed suit in October 2013. From the AP story when the suit was filed:
The odor is only there for about three months, during the California jalapeno pepper harvest season, which stretches from August to about the end of October or first week of November.
“This is the time, as they are crushing the chilis and mixing them with the other ingredients, that the odors really come out,” said City Attorney Frank Galante, adding Irwindale officials have gotten numerous complaints.
City officials met with company executives earlier this month and, although both sides say the meeting was cordial, the company balked at shelling out what it said would be $600,000 to put in a new filtration system it doesn’t believe it needs. As company officials were looking into other alternatives, said director of operations Adam Holliday, the city sued. The case goes to court on Thursday.
The attempt to shut the plant down by the city was unsuccessful, but residents are still complaining about the odor and irritation.
Those complaints and the ongoing public pressure caused Tran to consider moving his operation elsewhere, and that’s when Texas lawmakers swooped in to woo Tran to the Lone Star State. Texas is one of nearly a dozen states to have made the pitch to Tran.
In recent months, Texas Governor Rick Perry has made strong pitches to states with unfriendly business climates, including California. Perry even launched the website “Texas Wide Open for Business” to lure potential new business to Texas.
In a statement about the possible move, Governor Perry said:
Texas’ low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and world-class workforce make our state the ideal place for any business looking to relocate or expand, and I trust our sriracha delegation will communicate that effectively. Beyond that, we’re Texas: we know a thing or two about hot food and even hotter business climates.
Though Tran has ultimately decided he will not move Huy Fong’s operation at this time, he did fire a shot across the bow at big government regulations and excessive litigation. In an interview with NPR, Tran compared government pressure in Irwindale to that of communist Vietnam:
“Today, I feel almost the same [as when I lived in Vietnam]. Even now, we live in [the] USA, and my feeling, the government, not a big difference [between the U.S. and Vietnam].”