Sunday, September 25, 2016

The All-American Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale, Cal.

In 2014 the Sriracha sauce manufacturer, Huy Fong Foods, was beleaguered by odor complaints at its Irwindale factory from nearby residents, allegedly stemming from the company's staple ingredient:  the chili pepper.  While that matter eventually cleared up, as of this writing company founder David Tran is still in litigation with the city, this time over financial issues.

The controversy and notoriety may have done good for the company - while Tran's lawyers and Irwindale's legal counsel fight on.  Huy Fong started offering free factory tours and free swag to visitors, and this smart move has endeared the public.  And this blogger attended the 3rd annual Chili Grinding Open House September 24th as a first time visitor.

Tour-goers clutch tissues to their sniffling noses
Another truckload of peppers soon to be ground up

It seems a food factory tour is a rarity in Los Angeles County.  The FAQ on the See's Candies website explains that insurance restrictions forbid tours.  It is not known whether the long-defunct Helms Bakeries allowed tours, but they certainly promoted the bread-making processes and factory scenes through visual learning aids in Los Angeles Unified School classrooms.  One would have to travel to Ethel M's candy factory in Henderson, Nevada or head to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in Waterbury, Vermont or Hershey's Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania to have this much factory fun.

Huy Fong Foods' annual open house and year-round tours is an original approach (at least here in southern California) to reinforcing their brand - aside from the t-shirts, tchotchkes, Sriracha socks, keychains and their red & green sweatshirts sold in the gift stop, there is not any hard sell to the visitor.

Their friendly, organized and safety-conscious staff, who handle thousands of visitors during the Open House, can't be beat.  The fleet of shiny red passenger carts spoil the visitors who really didn't park that far away.  The tour is a class act - right down to the one employee whose sole job is to have his hand outreached with a box of tissue - standing at the very spot on the tour where everyone began to cough and sneeze.

Everyone was rewarded with t-shirt (with this year's design), a sturdy drawstring bag, and a jar of sauce.  A free bottle of water, Sriracha-laced popcorn & chips, Sriracha-inspired baked goods, and vanilla/chocolate/Sriracha soft serve ice cream on a sugar cone topped off the visit.

Pictured left to right:  free pepper, free sauces, free 36th anniversary t-shirt
The tour brochure, Sriracha keychain from the gift store,
and a free drawstring bag

Entering the Huy Fong website begins with a short video set to a song with a country twang, celebrating the American-ness of Sriracha, all the while a slight tongue-in-cheek detected.  The website states the procurement of California-grown peppers and garlic, which surely cannot be more foodie-correct.  It is prideful to see the cartons labeled MADE IN USA deriving from this San Gabriel Valley epicenter.  And humorous to overhear white guys asking about the Sriracha Halloween costumes in the gift store.

David Tran's personal origin and business success may have stayed private and unassuming had he not become embroiled with the city of Irwindale.  Like it or not, his life is a quintessential Horatio Alger story.


Destination:  Australia
Destination:  Canada
Destination:  Korea
Destination:  Texas
Wrestling with the big pour
Free vanilla & chocolate & Sriracha soft serve ice cream
Their sample gift pack - made in sunny southern California
A view of the backside of the carton