Thứ Năm, Tháng Bảy 25, 2024
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HomeSorted by levelC1 - AdvancedHow Vietnamese refugee David Tran became America’s first hot sauce billionaire

How Vietnamese refugee David Tran became America’s first hot sauce billionaire

[Reading level: C1 – Advanced]

Forty-five years after arriving in Los Angeles, David Tran has turned Sriracha into a billion-dollar business.


In December 1978, David Tran, 33 at the time, left his home in Vietnam with 100 ounces of gold. Valued at the time at $20,000, or about $90,000 in today’s terms, the precious metal was placed in cans of condensed milk to avoid the attention of Vietnam’s Communist authorities. Tran traveled by cargo ship to Hong Kong, where he spent eight months in a refugee camp, then moved to Boston for six months before settling in Los Angeles.



Once in L.A., he sold a portion of the gold and bought a 2,500-square-foot building in the city’s Chinatown. He founded his business, Hua Fong – named after the freighter he took – after a recipe originally from Thailand he made a hot sauce called Sriracha.


After More Than Four Decades, Sriracha is on Survivor – The International Space Station and dinner tables around the world. Its bottles with the rooster logo and green squeeze cap are in one in 10 US kitchens, according to market research firm NPD Group. It ranks third in the $1.5 billion US hot sauce market after Tabasco, owned by the McIlhenny family since 1868, and Frank’s RedHot, part of the publicly traded condiment company McCormick & Company.


Huy Fong is worth $1 billion today based on projected sales of $131 million in 2020, according to research firm IBISWorld. This makes 77-year-old Tran, who owns the entire company, the country’s only hot sauce billionaire. And while some of Sriracha’s rivals have been snapped up in recent years — McCormick bought Mexican hot sauce brand Cholula for $800 million in November 2020 — Tran has no plans to sell. He intends to pass on the business to his two children—William, 47, and Yasi, 41—who both work there.


Sriracha has become a giant since the early 1980s without spending a dime on advertising and raising wholesale prices. It has also survived a lawsuit over its factory’s odor, and most recently, a climate-related shortage of peppers last spring forced Hui Fong to temporarily halt production, causing retail sales to devotees and restaurant stocks.


Still, Tran is not deterred by his success. “I want to continue making a good quality product, like making hot sauce spicier…and not thinking about making more profit,” he explains forbes.


Tran has come a long way to reach this point. He was born in Soc Trang, Vietnam in 1945, when the country was still under French colonial rule. According to an oral history of Tran’s life by Dr. Thuy Vo Dang for UC Irvine’s Vietnamese American Oral History Project, his father was a businessman and his mother a homemaker.


At age 16, with only a primary school education, Tran followed his older brother and moved to Saigon—now known as Ho Chi Minh City—to work in a store selling chemicals. He returned to Soc Trang for high school, but by the time he finished he had been drafted into the South Vietnamese army.


“I didn’t have a choice,” Tran said in the oral history. “During the night, the policeman came and knocked [my] Door.


Tran never actually fought—he worked largely as a cook instead—and completed his enlistment in 1975, the year the North Vietnamese army captured Saigon and won the war. He married his wife Ada a few months back. After completing his military service, Tran worked with his older brother growing chili on their land northeast of Saigon. It was then that he turned to hot sauce: Tran had made chili sauce as an army cook, and he found that other sauces on the market were not spicy enough or lacked flavor. So he decided to buy fresh peppers and preserve them, using his background in chemicals to make hot sauce that stayed fresh and spicy.



Tran said in the oral history, “I thought of making it because the price of fresh chilies … jumps up and down a lot.” “If I can make it and keep it fresh and keep the price low…when [price of chilis] goes up, we still keep [price the] same, so we will have [a] market.”


Tran, his older brother and his father-in-law made hot sauce at home by bottling it in reused Gerber baby food jars discarded by American soldiers. But by 1978, the Communist government was pressuring Vietnamese of Chinese descent to leave the country. So Tran and his family, who were of Cantonese descent, left everything behind and boarded a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong. Tran, his wife and son moved to Los Angeles in January 1980, partly because Tran’s brother-in-law had told him he could find fresh chili peppers in California. Tran sourced pepper from local markets and in February 1980 enlisted Huy Fong, choosing a rooster as the logo (Tran was born in the Chinese Year of the Rooster.)


Tran began selling Sriracha out of a blue Chevy van. By 1987, demand had increased so much that they moved Huy Fong to a 240,000-square-foot building in Rosemead in eastern Los Angeles County. Less than a decade later they bought a former Wham-O factory next door that once manufactured hula hoops.


In 2010 Hui Fong moved again to its current, 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, not far from Rosemead. But with the company’s rapid growth came new challenges: In 2013, the city of Irwindale sued Huy Fong over a peppery smell emanating from the company’s factory, claiming it was a “public nuisance”. It sparked controversy with out-of-state politicians including Senator Ted Cruz Texas urged Tran and Huy Phong to flee the Golden State.


Normally press-shy, Tran countered this by opening the factory to public tours and letting the outside world in. “What’s so fascinating is their reluctance to tell their story,” says documentary filmmaker Griffin Hammond, who made a 2013 documentary on Sriracha. “All he cares about is running his business very well.” As of May 2014, the city had dropped its lawsuit.


Sriracha’s immense success even inspired counterfeiters, who sold knockoff Sriracha in bottles designed to mimic the iconic Rooster logo. “We filed lawsuits,” says Rod Berman, partner at Jeff Mangels Butler & Mitchell in Los Angeles, who represents Huy Fong in intellectual property matters. “What David and Huy Fong realized is that … they have a unique sauce. There is no substitute for Huy Fong and that is the best protection they have.”


Another challenge came in 2017, when Hui Fong’s relationship with Underwood Ranch, its exclusive supplier of chilis since 1988, broke down and a legal battle ensued. Huy Fong initially sued Underwood in August of that year, claiming that Underwood had not paid him over $1.4 million from the previous growing season. Underwood filed a counter-suit, alleging that Huy Fong had breached its contract and that Huy Fong had set up a new entity in 2016 to source peppers from other producers. The court battle lasted until 2021, when a California appellate court ordered Underwood to pay $23 million in damages to Huy Fong.


Still with a number of growers in California, New Mexico and Mexico, the company—which reportedly goes through 50,000 tons of peppers per year—depends on a strong crop in the spring pepper growing season to ensure that its hot sauces will continue to grow. Disaster struck in the spring of 2022 when weather conditions forced Huy Fong to temporarily stop production due to a bad harvest and a “severe shortage” of chili.


The shortfall appears to have been resolved, and Huy Fong can return to its normal pace of churning out 18,000 bottles of Sriracha an hour. (The company also makes two other hot sauces: sambal oelek, based on an Indonesian recipe that uses only chili, salt, and vinegar; and chili garlic, which is similar but adds garlic.)


Tran has always used the same ingredients in Sriracha since he first started selling it in 1980: chili, sugar, salt, garlic, and vinegar. For more than four decades, this has been the recipe for success, transforming Huy Fong from a small start-up to a billion-dollar business.


“I can use less expensive ingredients or promote my own products to make more money,” Tran says. “But no – my goal has always been to try to make a rich man’s hot sauce at a poor man’s expense.”




cargo ship /ˈkɑː.ɡəʊ/ /ʃɪp/ (n): tàu chở hàng

refugee camp /ref.jʊˈdʒiː ˌkæmp/ (n): trại tị nạn

portion /ˈpɔː.ʃən/ [C1] (n): (một) phần

condiment /ˈkɒn.dɪ.mənt/ (n): gia vị

projected /prəˈdʒek.tɪd/ (adj): dự kiến

snap up /snæp/ (phrasal v): thâu tóm

intend /ɪnˈtend/ [B1] (v): dự định

wholesale price (n): giá bán buôn

lawsuit /ˈlɔː.suːt/ [C2] (n): vụ kiện

shortage /ˈʃɔː.tɪdʒ/ [B2] (n): tình trạng thiếu hụt

temporarily /tem.pəˈəl.i/ (adv): tạm thời

halt /hɒlt/ (v): ngừng

deter /dɪˈtɜːr/ (v): nản lòng

profit /ˈprɒf.ɪt/ [B2] (n): lợi nhuận

businessman /ˈbɪz.nɪs.mən/ (n): thương gia

homemaker /ˈhəʊmˌmeɪ.kər/ (n): nội trợ

oral /ˈɔː.rəl/ [B2] (adj): truyền khẩu

enlistment /ɪnˈlɪst.mənt/ (n): nhập ngũ

preserve /prɪˈzɜːv/ [B2] (v): bảo quản

manufacture /ˌmæn.jəˈfæk.tʃər/ [B2] (v): sản xuất

rapid /ˈræp.ɪd/ [B2] (adj): nhanh chóng

spark /spɑːk/ [C2] (v): gây ra

controversy /ˈkɒn.trə.vɜː.si/ [C1] (n): tranh cãi

fascinating /ˈfæs.ən.eɪt/ [C1] (v): thú vị

reluctance/rɪˈlʌk.təns/ (n): miễn cưỡng

immense /ɪˈmens/ [C1] (adj): to lớn

counterfeiters /ˈkaʊn.tə.fɪt.ər/ (n): (người) làm hàng giả

mimic /ˈmɪm.ɪk/ (v): bắt chước

represent /ˌrep.rɪˈzent/ [C2] (v): đại diện

strike /straɪk/ (v): ập đến

resolve /rɪˈzɒlv/ [C1] (v): giải quyết

expense /ɪkˈspens/ [B2] (n): chi phí

freighter /ˈfreɪ.t̬ɚ/ (n): tàu chở hàng

rooster /ˈruː.stɚ/ (n): con gà trống

giant /ˈdʒaɪ.ənt/ [C2] (n): gã khổng lồ

dime /daɪm/ [C1] (n): xu

odor /ˈoʊ.dɚ/ [C2] (n): mùi hôi

devotee /ˌdev.əˈtiː/ (n): người đam mê một thứ gì đó

colonial /kəˈloʊ.ni.əl/ (adj): thuộc về thực dân

rule /ruːl/ (n): sự cai trị

draft /dræft/ (v): gọi nhập ngũ

bound for somewhere /baʊnd/ [C1] (adv): đến đâu đó

emanate /ˈem.ə.neɪt/ (v – formal): tỏa ra

intellectual property /ɪn.t̬əlˌek.tʃu.əl ˈprɑː.pɚ.t̬i/ (n): sở hữu trí tuệ

exclusive /ɪkˈskluː.sɪv/ [C1] (adj): riêng, độc quyền

ensue /ɪnˈsuː/ (v – formal): xảy ra sau đó

entity /ˈen.t̬ə.t̬i/ [C2] (n): thực thể

pace /peɪs/ [B2] (n): tốc độ

churn out /tʃɝːn/ (v – informal): cho ra


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