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John McCartney and Herald staff | jmccartney@heraldnet.com
Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 7:04 p.m.

Sriracha maker mulls a move

  • Sriracha chili sauce is produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, Calif.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Sriracha chili sauce is produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, Calif.

LOS ANGELES -- After a months-long battle with the city of Irwindale over complaints about a spicy odor, Sriracha sauce creator David Tran said Wednesday he is now seriously considering moving his factory to another location.

Tran responded Wednesday to the politicians and business leaders from 10 states and multiple cities in California that have offered to host the Sriracha factory. He invited them to tour the facility in Irwindale, east of Los Angeles, and decide if their communities would complain about the odors that arise during production.

Tran stressed he has not decided whether to move, but would like to explore his options.

The Irwindale City Council voted unanimously to designate the factory a public nuisance last Wednesday despite promises from the saucemaker that they would submit an action plan and fix the smell by June 1.

Tran said he fears the city won'??t accept any solution he proposes. If Irwindale residents continue to complain even after smell-mitigation technology is installed, Sriracha's legal troubles could have no end, Tran said.

"(City officials) tell you one thing, but think another,"¯ Tran said in an interview at Huy Fong Foods on Wednesday. "I don't want to sit here and wait to die."

Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galante said he was confused and disappointed by Tran's actions. Irwindale officials just want an action plan to be submitted, and Galante said that Tran has not proposed any solutions for the city to reject.

"This seems very extreme,"?¯ Galante said. "It's disappointing giving that (air quality officials) have explained that there are readily available solutions."

Irwindale's public nuisance designation gives city officials the authority to enter the factory and install smell-mitigation technology if the company does not make the appropriate changes within approximately 90 days. Tran fears that the city's intervention could delay the crucial pepper harvest this fall and cause ruinous financial harm to the company. Irwindale officials are also suing Huy Fong Foods in Los Angeles Superior Court, and the outcome of the lawsuit could jeopardize a pepper crop that's worth tens of millions of dollars, Tran said.

Relocating Sriracha production would not be simple. Tran has been working with a single pepper grower in Ventura County for years, and the businesses have shaped their operations around each other, expanding in tandem. Since peppers for Sriracha hot sauce must be fresh ground on the day they are harvested, Tran said he'll have to find a new grower if he moves, as well as replace or relocate 60 to 200 employees.

Tran said his first choice is to stay in Irwindale, but the city government's actions have created an uncertain business climate.

"I have had the bad luck to move into a city with a government that acts like a local king,"¯ Tran said.

Huy Fong Foods' Executive Operations Officer Donna Lam said that Alabama, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico and West Virginia have offered to host factories. A cadre of local officials also have thrown their support behind the hot sauce maker, including state Sen. Ed Hernandez.

U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley, joined the chorus of voices clamoring to host Sriracha production on Wednesday.

"California's 29th District is home to a vibrant network of businesses,"?¯ Cardenas said in a news release. "Why send Huy Fong Foods off thousands of miles away when they can stay in California and create jobs here?"

On Monday, Texas state Rep. Jason Villalba asked Tran in a Facebook post to meet with Texas officials. Villalba offered to organize a Texan delegation to travel to Irwindale and discuss the deal in greater detail.

"I implore the Tran Family: just meet with us. Let us tell you what is possible by moving your operations to Texas. You will not be disappointed,"¯ Villalba said.


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