If you're the sort of person who passes time watching how things like crayons and bubblegum are made, maybe now would be a good time to Google Map your way to Irwindale. Because Huy Fong Foods, manufacturer of an enormously popular Sriracha sauce, is located in that very industrial city, and every Saturday between Sept. 13 and Oct. 25, the company will host public tours of its enormous 650,000 square foot factory.
Huy Fong actually began offering tours of its facility in February, but even if you went then, you'll probably want to go again now: The fall season is chile-grinding season, or the four months out of the year when some 30-40 truckloads of red chile peppers are delivered to the factory, ground and made into sauce. Thus these Saturday visits give you a chance to see the entire manufacturing process, from soup to nuts or, as it were, from peppers to Sriracha.
For fans of underdogs as well as the Rooster sauce, these also may as well be post-victory tours: As you'll no doubt recall, the City of Irwindale filed a nuisance lawsuit against the company around this time last year based on complaints from residents that the chile odors emanating from the factory were harsh and offensive. Huy Fong CEO and founder David Tran put up a valiant fight, a detente between the company and the city was struck in May and the lawsuit was dismissed.
And so, what will you see and (especially) smell during the fall tour? Based on our recent trip: a lot and a lot of garlic, respectively.
See also: Tour of the Huy Fong Sriracha Factory
First you'll see trucks unloading massive amounts of dark red peppers into a huge hopper (while the truck is unloading, you may be handed a pepper, as a souvenir, as an ingredient for dinner), then walk by the machines that sort, wash and grind the peppers before salt, vinegar and preservatives are added to create the chile base for Huy Fong's trio of sauces (Sriracha, of course, but also the excellent Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek).
Of all the areas on the tour, this, right next to the grinding machines, is the one where the smell of peppers is most pronounced. (Outside, in contrast, the air was thick with truck exhaust, rubber and garlic. In other words, not unlike a drive through Gilroy with the windows rolled down on an especially hot day.)
After oohing and ahhing over the sauce-making process, you'll move on to the bottling section, where the bottles are made out of preform plastic, then labeled, filled, packaged and hauled away to a storage area per new California Department of Public Health regulations.
All in all, the tour takes about 45 minutes, which may or may not include time spent taking photos with the various life-size cut-outs of Mr. Tran that appear throughout the tour (because why not) and time spent at the gift area that embraces the culture the Rooster sauce has spawned: The gift shop is well-stocked with appropriately-themed T-shirts (“Free Sriracha”), and an ice cream truck may be swirling Sriracha-flavored ice cream. On your way back to your car, you also might be handed a small bottle of Sriracha. More souvenirs, more ingredients for dinner.
Huy Fong Foods is located at 4800 Azusa Canyon Road in Irwindale. There are a few spots left for the tours scheduled for this Saturday, September 13, plus more than a few spots left for the Saturdays thereafter. Sign up here.