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Condiment Detente: Sriracha Plant To Stay In California City

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

The Sriracha-slurping public no longer has to worry about hoarding bottles and bottles of the spicy stuff: There will be hot sauce tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Sriracha will continue to be made in the state-of-the-art plant David Tran built in Irwindale, Calif. And residents near the plant who complained about spicy odors when chilies for the famous hot sauce were ground (from roughly August to October, during harvest season) should now be able to breathe more easily.

You get the feeling that this whole thing was a schoolyard spat that got out of control.

After a few residents complained about the air quality, Irwindale's City Council says, it tried to get Tran, CEO of Huy Fong Foods, which makes Sriracha, to discuss installing better air filtration devices. The council says Tran ignored it until it served him with a lawsuit. Tran says the council was hassling a business that it had invited to relocate to its city.

In other words, each thought the other was rude. Hurt feelings ensued.

Irwindale upped the ante by indicating it would declare the Huy Fong Foods factory a public nuisance, because the spicy odors made some residents' eyes sting and noses run. Irwindale city attorney Fred Galante said it was a public health issue that had to be taken into account, even if only a few people complained. "It's difficult to say to someone who's affected or whose child is affected, 'We'd like to be considered business-friendly, so keep your child indoors,' " Galante says.

Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong Foods will remain in Irwindale, Calif.
Nick Ut / AP
Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong Foods will remain in Irwindale, Calif.

Tran countered by announcing he would consider some of the two dozen offers he'd gotten to relocate — some from small-government types, some from places that just wanted the publicity for having asked. All professed lovers of Sriracha.

"It doesn't help that he's doing this in public," Galante said. "We've been working on this all along."

Earlier this month, after one Texas delegation visited to pitch Tran and other locations signaled their intention to do the same, California Gov. Jerry Brown sent his own delegation to Irwindale to try to broker a peace between Tran and the Irwindale body politic. (In the meantime, we broke news by being the first to announce that Tran had made the decision to remain in Irwindale. "I've lived in California for 34, 35 years; I'm not planning to move," Tran said.)

The result: After yet another closed-door meeting with the Irwindale city fathers (and yes, they are all men), the schoolyard spat that made national news was settled. Brown's people helped to broker a condiment detente, and now Tran will continue indefinitely to produce his beloved Sriracha — in Irwindale. He has installed enhanced filters that should contain the peppery fumes some people found objectionable. Although no one will know for sure until pepper-grinding season begins somewhere around August.

Tran is happy. Irwindale Mayor Mark Breceda is happy. And chiliheads across the nation are happy.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. (Sriracha optional for those who can't handle the heat.)

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Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.
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