The building that is likely to be the biggest commercial real estate development started in Los Angeles County this year is not part of a movie studio, aerospace venture or other type of business readily associated with the area.
It's all about hot sauce.
Huy Fong Foods, best known as the maker of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce with a rooster depicted on the label, broke ground this week on a 655,000-square-foot, $40-million headquarters and factory in Irwindale.
The project will nearly triple the space occupied by Huy Fong, which now operates out of two buildings in Rosemead that it will give up when the new facility is finished.
Demand for the product has increased every year for the last 30 years, said David Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who said he founded the company when he couldn't find hot sauce he liked. In 1980, Tran rented 2,500 square feet in Chinatown and started making sauce from chilies he bought at Grand Central Market. He delivered the final product to Asian markets in a Chevy van.
The company currently makes more than 20 million bottles of the spicy concoction annually by working around the clock.
"We are at full capacity," Tran said. "We need a bigger building to make the hot sauce."
Huy Fong rolls out 100 tons of the red stuff a day now and will increase its volume "rapidly" in the new facility, Tran said. The company aims to increase its manufacturing capacity tenfold by 2016 to meet projected demand.
Employment at the company is expected to triple when the move is made to the new facility. Currently, Huy Fong has 70 workers during jalapeno season in the summer and fall when the peppers are pouring in, said operations manager Donna Lam.
Construction is being overseen by Seventh Street Development, a Long Beach real estate company selected by the city of Irwindale to develop the blighted 23-acre site at Azusa Canyon Road and Cypress Street that had been vacant for more than a decade.
The site was mentioned in a recent Times story about redevelopment properties that were earmarked by cities for affordable housing — in accordance with state law — but not used entirely for that purpose.
Irwindale will finance most of Huy Fong's $15-million purchase of the property. Seventh Street expects to finish the Huy Fong building by next fall.
Like most companies that move to new quarters, Huy Fong won't be moving far.
"With many of its employees living in the area, it was important to Huy Fong to stay in the San Gabriel Valley, which has been its home since 1987," said Craig Furniss, a principal at Seventh Street Development. "Irwindale was one of the few areas able to accommodate Huy Fong's space requirement and still make financial sense."
The new building will have such environmentally friendly attributes as a white reflective roof, skylights and storm-water catch basins. The California Mission-style building will include 26,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 480,000 square feet of warehouse space under one roof. Huy Fong needs lots of room to store sauce crushed during pepper season so it can keep bottling year-round.
Sriracha (sree-rah-chah) is a traditional Southeast Asian sauce named after a Thai seaside town. Tran's garlicky interpretation uses whole chilies, seeds and all, and comes out thicker than typical Louisiana-style hot sauces. That's the way he likes it.
"Almost any meal I eat with hot sauce," he said.