How Sriracha Accidentally Became an Empire

David Tran made his sauce a household name—and left millions on the table

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 27, 2013 8:10 AM CDT

(Newser) – You might imagine the CEO of Huy Fong Foods is a ruthless, number-crunching business genius. In just 33 years, its Sriracha sauce has become for Asian chili sauce what Heinz is to ketchup, and it's still posting double-digit growth every year. But David Tran tells Quartz that he never intended to build an empire, barely knows where Sriracha is sold, and doesn't really care about profit. He has never once raised Sriracha's wholesale price—even though food prices have tripled since he founded the company in 1980—and has turned away every investor who's approached him. The goal, he says, is simple: “Make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

Tran says he founded Huy Fong hoping only to provide hot sauce for other Southeast Asian immigrants in LA. "I started the business with my eyes closed. There were no expectations at all," he says. The business has grown dramatically—it just bought a new 650,000-square-foot factory—but Tran has a rule: "We can only grow as quickly as our ability to harvest chilies grows," he explains. Most commercial hot sauce uses dried peppers, but Sriracha uses fresh ones; Tran insists they be processed within a day of being picked. Huy Fong has never spent a dime on advertising or marketing, and Tran says this chili crunch prevents him from doing so. "I don't advertise," he says, "because I can't advertise."

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