LOS ANGELES — Avonne Penaflor and Anna Lim entered the doors of the Sriracha factory in Irwindale, Calif., took a deep breath and started to giggle.
They had caught wind of an odor that has allegedly inflamed respiratory conditions, launched lawsuits and made legions of fans hungry.
“It’s very nice, actually,” said Lim, 38, of Azusa.
Huy Fong Foods, the creator of Sriracha hot sauce, has been closed to the public for more than 30 years, fearing that competitors would steal trade secrets. But after months of Irwindale residents and city officials accusing the sauce maker of flooding their city with an offensive spicy odor, the notoriously private company has thrown open its doors.
Over the last few weeks, reporters, curious residents and foodies have streamed into the factory to take a tour that ends with a free miniature bottle of the Asian hot sauce, as well as a request to fill out a smell survey.
“We want people to come and see for themselves,” said Sriracha creator David Tran. “Is this smell harmful?”
As relations with Irwindale deteriorate, Huy Fong officials have turned to public opinion to help their case, hiring a public relations firm last week and finally assuming control of their Facebook page, which has more than 270,000 likes.
City officials see an uncooperative, defiant company that has dragged its feet in finding a solution. Last year the city asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to halt odor-causing operations at the factory.
After the judge granted the city’s request for a preliminary injunction, Tran displayed a green banner in front of the factory with the slogan: “No tear gas made here.”
Huy Fong executives say they’ve felt bullied and disrespected. They accused the city of taking an anti-business stance and rushing them toward a solution they can’t be certain will work.