The Spicy History of Sriracha

4 min readJun 25, 2022

Sriracha may be a big deal now, but it comes from humble beginnings.

Everyone’s got that one hot sauce they put on everything. For some, it’s a more traditional hot sauce. For others, it’s sriracha. Sriracha has been growing in popularity in America since last few decades. It got so popular there was even a major shortage at one point. But before sriracha was a big deal, it was the brilliant idea of a home-cook named Ms. Thanom Chakkapak.

It all started in the small coastal town of Si Racha in Southeast Thailand in 1949. Chakkapak began serving up a bright, garlicky chili sauce with her meals, and everyone who ate it was hooked. Her family and friends urged her to bottle and sell it and she decided it was worth a shot. She called her creation Sriraja Panich. At this point, it wasn’t quite the hot sauce we all love today, but it was well on its way.

In 1975, Vietnam-native David Tran started slinging hot sauce of his own. After about three years, he and his family fled their homeland on a Taiwanese freighter called the Huy Fong, or “gathering prosperity” in English. They landed on the shores of the United States after quite the journey on the high seas. Tran quickly noticed he and his family weren’t alone in California. In the 1980s, he saw droves of Southeast Asian immigrants.

He decided to bring a little bit of home to them by selling his hot sauce once again. His hot sauce was bottled in baby food jars and he sold it out of his blue Chevy van. The operation may not have started the way most do, but Tran saw some success. In 1983, Tran opened a facility to start selling even more inventory. He also started playing with an old recipe from a coastal region in Thailand. One that called for vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and specially grown red jalapenos.

Tran wanted to pay homage to the area the recipe originated, so he called it sriracha. He named his company Huy Fong, just like the ship that brought his family to America, and put a rooster on the bottle to honor the year he was born. There’s no telling who drew the original label, which the company still uses today. Tran can’t remember and neither can anyone else. It hasn’t changed since the company started though, which is pretty cool.

In the mid-’80s, Tran moved his product all along the California coast. He focused on cities with large concentrations of Southeast Asians and spent no money on marketing. He didn’t even have a sales team, but he raked in the dough. Sriracha continued to grow in popularity through the mid-’90s. People — specifically culinary insiders — couldn’t stop talking about it, telling anyone who would listen about their favorite hot sauce. They didn’t call it by name though. They called it “secret sauce.”

In the mid-2000s, Sriracha experienced its real star moment, appearing on grocery store shelves all over America. Growing awareness about Vietnamese food increased demand for production, pushing Tran to upgrade his manufacturing across Chinatown LA, Rosemond, CA, and Irwindale, CA.

What was unexpected is the fact that he was able to bag millions in revenue without spending anything on ads. How? Well… Tran’s has mostly maintained the same 10 distributors and wholesale pricing from the 80s, with no sales team. They’ve depended entirely on “word of mouth,” rather than ads.

Tran’s Sriracha hit USD 150 million in annual revenue in 2019, representing 10% of the entire hot sauce market in the US. And that’s saying a lot, considering that hot sauce is one of the fastest-growing condiments in America. Another unexpected fact is that Tran never trademarked the name “Sriracha,” though he did obtain trademarks for his signature green cap and rooster logo.

Because of this massive success, investors have been courting Tran for decades. But Tran doesn’t care about the money — to him, Sriracha is “a rich man’s sauce at a poor man’s price.” That’s why he caps his retailer selling prices at less than USD 10. Meanwhile, his competitors are charging three times that.

In 2013, Tran told the Los Angeles Times: “My American Dream was never to become a billionaire. We started this because we like fresh, spicy chili sauce.” If there’s one thing we can learn from this immigrant success story, it’s that staying true to yourself does pay off.





Entrepreneur. A bibliophile with passion to write inspirational stories on selfmade millionaires.