Sriracha’s Spicy Success: The Rise of Vietnamese Refugee David Tran As America’s First Hot Sauce Billionaire

Whether you spell it ‘Sriracha’ or ‘Siracha,’ whether you pronounce it ‘SIR-AH-CHA’ or ‘SEE-RA-CHA,’ Sriracha-lovers don’t just love the spicy sauce. We eat it, crave it, talk about it, wear it, and strive to live a spicy life.

This spicy condiment has reached a level of fame and devotion that sets it apart from all other sauces, earning it a status as a globally recognized, cult-favorite brand.

It all started when 33-year-old David Tran took a cargo ship to Hong Kong, where he spent half a year in a refugee camp, before relocating to Boston for a brief period, and eventually, finding his way to Los Angeles and putting down roots there.

From there, he established his business, Huy Fong, named after the freighter he traveled on. He introduced a hot sauce recipe that was originally from the small seaside town of Si Racha, Thailand, which he called Sriracha (originally spelled, “Sriraja”).

Sriracha became widely popular over the course of several decades, rather than overnight. Tran started producing the sauce in 1980 and slowly built up a following, particularly among Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities in the United States. It wasn’t until the 2000s that Sriracha began to gain mainstream popularity and become recognized as a beloved and iconic hot sauce.

After more than four decades, Sriracha has become a ubiquitous presence, appearing not only on dinner tables worldwide but also on the TV show “Survivor” and aboard the International Space Station.

Based on projected sales of $131 million in 2020, research firm IBISWorld values Huy Fong at $1 billion today. This makes David Tran, the sole owner of the company at the age of 77, the only hot sauce billionaire in the country.

Despite recent acquisitions of rival hot sauce brands, such as McCormick’s purchase of Cholula for $800 million in November 2020, Tran has no intention of selling. Instead, he plans to pass down the business to his two children, William and Yasi, who are both currently employed at Huy Fong.