How Sriracha Creator David Tran Fleeed Vietnam to Build a $1 Billion Hot Sauce Empire
The entrepreneur who popularized Sriracha hot sauce in the US has spoken out in a rare interview after being named America’s only hot sauce billionaire.
David Tran, 77, founded Huy Fong Foods in the south of the country California after fleeing Vietnam in 1978 with his wife and son, with his life savings of $20,000 in gold hidden in cans of condensed milk.
He is the sole owner of Huy Fong, which was recently valued at $1 billion by research firm IBISWorld, based on estimated sales of $131 million in 2020.
Despite his wealth, Tran remains doggedly focused on the quality of his Sriracha, a widely loved product emblazoned with the rooster emblem, the year of his birth according to the Chinese zodiac.
“I want to continue to make a good quality product, like making hot sauce hotter … and not think about making more profit,” he said Forbes in the last profile.
David Tran, 77, founded Huy Fong Foods in southern California after fleeing Vietnam in 1978 with his wife and son, his savings hidden in cans of condensed milk.
Peppers are unloaded from a truck at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale
“I could use less expensive ingredients or promote my products to make more money,” Tran added. “But no – my goal is always to try to make hot sauce for the rich at a price for the poor.”
Chiang was born in 1945 in the Vietnamese city of Soc Trang, then still under French colonial rule, according to a 2013 estimate. oral history for the UC Irvine Vietnamese-American Oral History Project.
He moved to Saigon at the age of 16, where he worked in his brother’s chemical store until he was drafted into the South Vietnamese army at the height of the Vietnam War.
He served for five years, never seeing combat, but instead mostly worked as a cook, until the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Married with a baby on the way by then, he went to work with his brother growing chilies and came up with the idea of turning them into a sauce to take advantage of the wild price fluctuations of whole chilies.
But in 1978, the communist government began pressuring the Vietnamese of Chinese descent to leave the country. Tran, whose ancestors were Cantonese, fled to Hong Kong.
When Huy Fong Foods founder David Tran immigrated to the US from Vietnam, he named the company after the ship that transported him
The inventory is held at Huy Fong Foods’ 650,000-square-foot Sriracha hot chili sauce facility in Irwindale, California.
The Huy Fong factory can produce 18,000 bottles of Sriracha per hour
Bottles of Sriracha chili sauce are displayed on shelves in this file photo
In January 1980, Chan, his wife and son moved to Los Angeles, and he founded Huy Fong Foods, named after the cargo ship that brought them to America.
Tran started selling his Sriracha sauce to restaurants out of the back of a van.
Demand for the sauce skyrocketed, and Tran moved to a factory in Rosemead, on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, and later expanded into the abandoned Wham-O hula hoop factory next door.
In 2010, demand for the sauce prompted it to move again to a new 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, where Sriracha is currently produced.
However, in 2013, neighbors’ complaints about the sharp fumes from the new factory caused the city authorities to open a public order case.
The ensuing battle brought the factory to a brief halt, prompting fears of a shortage of Sriracha among devotees.
The dispute was eventually settled after Tran installed stronger filters on the plants’ vents, and California officials backed down in the face of Texas’ efforts to lure the company to friendlier territory.
Tran (above) has no plans to sell the business, which he intends to pass on to his children, William, 47, and Jasi, 41, who work there
In addition to Sriracha, Huy Fong has only two other products: a chili garlic variety and sambal oelek, based on an Indonesian recipe.
The company does no advertising or marketing, and Tran rarely gives interviews to the press.
Sriracha’s wholesale price hasn’t changed since the early 1980s, as have the ingredients: chili peppers, sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar.
Today, the sauce is the third best-selling sauce in the country behind Tabasco, owned by the McIlney family since 1868, and Frank’s RedHot, a subsidiary of McCormick & Co.
Tran has no plans to sell the business, which he intends to pass on to his children, William, 47, and Yasi, 41, who both work there.