The company that makes the most popular sauce to hit restaurants and grocery shelves in two decades may have to shut down if the City of Irwindale is successful with an injunction petition set for ruling Thursday.
David Tran’s Huy Fong Foods, which makes Sriracha — rooster sauce to its fans — was founded in 1983 and had been making the sauce for over two decades in a residential area of Rosemead without complaints. But as the sauce has become nearly ubiquitous in restaurants from Miami to Vancouver, Montreal to Cabo San Lucas, the plant couldn’t keep up with demand.
Earlier this year the firm moved to a gleaming new plant in Irwindale — the biggest manufacturing plant to be built in the Los Angeles area during the past five years. It’s currently producing enough green-capped bottles of sauce to support $60 million in annual sales.
The plant is located in a commercial/industrial zone, but about 30 residents of a several downwind apartment complexes have complained that the smell of chili pepper pervades the air and makes their lives miserable. The city filed for an injunction ordering Huy Fong to suspend production until it comes up with a solution.
The inside of the plant is equipped with a ventilation system that takes the eye-stinging pepper dust out of the air and blows it out through ducts on the roof. The system works well to keep the interior free of irritants, but emits enough chili dust to irritate sensitive neighbors. Apparently the problem is worst between September and December when the plant processes a year’s supply of peppers just after they’re harvested.
“Every morning it smells like chili powder,” one neighbor griped to KCAL. “It’s irritating.”
Adam Holliday, Huy Fong’s director of director of operations, has looked into a cleaning system that would burn the pepper from the air before it’s sent outside. But it would cost $600,000.
“We don’t want to spend a lot of money and the residents still have an issue,” he says.
To win the injunction the city has to show that the plant’s operation is causing severe or irreparable injury to neighbors of a type that can’t be compensated with damages, and that the harm suffered by the neighbors is greater than the harm that would be suffered by the plant if production were suspended. There’s little indication that the neighbors have suffered more than persistent but mild irritation.
Some Sriracha devotees have taken to stocking up on the sauce ahead of the expected court ruling Thursday. If the judge should side with the city, rooster sauce could become a scarce commodity for weeks or even a few months while Tran coughs up the money and installs a filtration system capable of appeasing some super-sensitive noses.