Sriracha, a cult-following-turned-mainstream hot sauce, recently came under attack by bureaucrats where the condiment is manufactured in Irwindale, Calif., after a handful of residents complained about a spicy smell from the factory. David Tran, whose company makes Sriracha, said that the government regulatory abuse has become so intense that he feels like he’s back in communist Vietnam, the nation he fled three decades ago to seek opportunity in the U.S.
At a recent Irwindale City Council meeting, Tran asked the local lawmakers, “Why do you hate me? Why do you want to shut me down?”
Last year, a local resident forced Tran to shut down a part of his Huy Fong factory. And a month ago, city officials moved to declare the entire operation a public nuisance.
The New York Times explains:
To local residents, the problem with the Sriracha factory is one of overwhelming odors. When the factory is grinding chiles in the fall, the scent of red jalapeños — so sweet once bottled — blows through town like a malevolent wind. Residents say that the chile-laced air burns their eyes and noses, causes coughing fits, and forces them to take cover indoors.
But the prospect that officials may force the closing of Huy Fong Foods, which produces about 20 million bottles of the sauce each year, has taken people by surprise. The 650,000-square-foot factory employs about 70 full-time workers and around 200 during chile season, when up to 40 truckloads of fresh peppers arrive each day from Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. The chiles are ground that same day, part of a round-the-clock operation.
But Tran and many locals who talked to media outlets said that they have experienced no problems as a result of the hot sauce production.
“I work face to the chile for 34 years. Why am I still here?” 68-year-old Tran said in an interview. “Maybe I should have died already.”
A woman who lives just blocks from the factory told Vice: “I honestly don’t smell it. Everybody eats that chili sauce. You go to any Chinese restaurant or any restaurant around here — really, they have that stuff on the table. I’m 100 percent in favor of them staying here.”
City officials are showing no signs of backing down, which has prompted officials from at least 10 States and several municipalities to extend an invitation for Tran to bring jobs to their areas. Most recently, a group of Texas lawmakers paid the businessman a visit.
But while Tran said he is open to expansions in different areas, fully moving his Sriracha operation to a different area could prove difficult because he has grown alongside many of the vendors who supply his ingredients in the area.
“Other cities say, ‘Irwindale is not friendly, come to my city,’” he told The Times. “Other states say, ‘California is not friendly, come to my state.’ Other countries say, ‘U.S.A. is not friendly, come back here.’”
He added, “I’m not sure why the U.S.A. lets local government do stupid things like this.”
In a separate interview with NPR, the businessman noted, “Today, I feel almost the same [as when I left Vietnam]. Even now we live in the USA, but my feeling, the government, not a big difference.”