By David Hendricks
San Antonio Express-News
A tug-of-war over the future production of the widely popular Sriracha pepper sauce intensified Monday as a Texas delegation toured the embattled California plant of the best-known maker with promises to help if the company decides to expand to a Texas location.
No decision on a relocation or expansion was made Monday as the delegation led by state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, visited the Huy Fong Foods Inc. plant in Irwindale, California, and conducted a meeting that went well beyond its scheduled ending time.
But the Texas delegation invited Huy Fong Foods CEO David Tran to visit Texas, which he said is a possibility after the pepper-growing season ends this summer in California, according to one delegation member, state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
San Antonio is considered a logical location for a Sriracha production plant because a key ingredient — red jalapeño chili peppers — can be grown in the area.
Huy Fong Foods has been under a court order since November to curtail production after nearby residents complained of offensive odors from the plant.
The Irwindale City Council is scheduled Wednesday to give final approval to an ordinance declaring the plant a public nuisance, although city staff members have asked that the vote be delayed. If the ordinance is approved, city officials say they could enter the plant and make changes to mitigate the smell, according to the Associated Press.
“I don’t think they can do that,” a defiant Tran told the Associated Press. He added that he doesn’t plan to attend Wednesday’s council meeting or cooperate with the city any further.
Tran’s “last resort is to move to another state,” state Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, a member of the nicknamed Texas “Sriracha Delegation,” said in a telephone interview from Irwindale. “He wants to do everything first in California, to do his best to get everything resolved . . . His whole investment is here.”
Vo said Tran is keeping open the possibility of continued operation of his California plant and expanding with a second plant elsewhere.
Both Tran and Vo are Vietnamese, and the two discussed the matter Monday while speaking in Vietnamese.
“We ran away from the communists in Vietnam. Today, we don’t want to run away anymore,” Vo quoted Tran as saying.
Among Tran’s concerns are his workers.
“Tran kept saying, ‘What about my workers?’ — and I assume that meant his growers, too,” Uresti said.
The existing Huy Fong Foods plant employs about 200 people, not counting the growers who supply the plant with chili peppers. The Irwindale plant is reported to have sold 20 million bottles of its sauce in 2012.
“It’s a fascinating company. You have to step back and scratch your head and wonder why his company is being treated the way it is” by Irwindale city officials, Uresti said after the tour and meeting.
The “Sriracha Delegation” visit attracted a large number of news reporters, Uresti said.
“There are a lot of issues at play,” Uresti said, describing how Tran, an American success story who left Vietnam with almost nothing sees his successful company threatened by a small number of councilmembers, even though the company provides vital tax revenues to the city.
“Also, there’s the Texas vs. California issue,” Uresti said, a matter that was heightened recently by Toyota Motor Corp.’s decision to move 4,000 administrative workers from California to Plano.
On May 1, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, put out a Twitter post that read: “Dear Sriracha, Toyota recently announced a move to the Lone Star State — join the GTT (Gone to Texas) movement!”
“The purpose of the delegation visit was to meet and greet, to introduce ourselves. We were here to further the discussion,” Uresti said. “I thought we did a good job of promoting Texas . . . It’s in a central location and has a good workforce.”
No specific incentives were offered to Huy Fong Foods, although a cash incentive from the Texas Enterprise Fund operated by Gov. Rick Perry’s office, “is open to discussion,” Uresti said.
As for San Antonio, local incentives have not been offered at this point. If negotiations started, incentives would depend on the number of jobs, wage levels and the amount of investment, said San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President Mario Hernandez.
Favoring San Antonio is its existing food-processing companies and being the headquarters city of H-E-B, a Huy Fong Foods customer, Hernandez said.
“We are trying to assert ourselves,” Hernandez said. “If the company has enough organic growth to expand, we hope it would give San Antonio a chance.”