Sriracha: An immigrant success story
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods, is the man behind the world’s best-selling sriracha chili sauce. Once found only in Asian restaurants and groceries, the rooster-emblazoned bottle of red sauce with the iconic green tip is quickly becoming as mainstream as ketchup. The story of sriracha is one of immigrant ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
Tran, an officer in the South Vietnamese Army, fled Vietnam with his family, shortly after the fall of Saigon. He was a poor, jobless refugee when he arrived in Los Angeles. To make matters worse, Tran couldn’t find the foods or flavors he had grown up with, which made settling into his new life even more difficult. He decided to buy some chilies and experiment.
Tran hit on a recipe that he liked and started making it on a regular basis. Word got out about his hot sauce, and people began asking to buy it. At first, he made it by hand, in a bucket, bottled it and used his van to deliver the sauce to customers. He called his fledgling business, Huy Fong Foods – named for the Taiwanese freighter on which he and his family fled Vietnam.
The company’s first location was in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, and it was from there, in the 1980s, that Tran introduced his now-ubiquitous sriracha sauce. Sriracha refers to a city in Thailand, Si Racha, that is famous for its own hot sauce. Tran’s version, however, spread quickly through the L.A. region and across the U.S., becoming the standard by which other versions of sriracha are judged.
In 2013, Huy Fong Foods sold more than $60 million worth of “Rooster Sauce” (Tran was born in the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese Zodiac), and the company’s revenues to continue to grow at a steady 20 percent per year. Despite his success and lucrative offers to buy the company, Tran is adamant about keeping Huy Fong Foods a family business.
Tran’s son is president, his daughter is vice president, and Tran’s vision continues to be the guiding force behind the company’s very short list of products: four sauces in all. Because of Tran’s ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, the lives of many Americans are considerably more flavorful.