In a pedestrian alley tucked into San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood, this tiny factory is one of the oldest producers of handmade fortune cookies in the United States. As other producers turn to automated labor, it is one of the last of its kind, and it’s in trouble—but not because its cookies aren’t delicious.
With their rent quadrupling over the past three years, the Chang family, who has run the operation since 1962, has come up with new ways to make do. They’ve opened up the factory to allow visitors to see how the cookies are made, a process whereby the hot, flat, baked cookies are peeled off a press and must be folded and bent within seconds, lest they harden and shatter before taking their final form.
While the classic fortune cookie recipe is beloved and secret (even co-owner Kevin Chang doesn’t know his mother’s recipe), the Changs have begun selling a wider variety of flavors as well, including strawberry, chocolate, and tea. With only three staff members, the factory is able to crank out up to 10,000 cookies a day. Their impressive output, however, pales in comparison to the production of automated factories, which can bake and bend around one million cookies per day.
While the “old-school” techniques hinder the company’s productivity, holding to tradition is a matter of principle for Kevin Chang. As he told the BBC, “I want people to see how the cookies are made.”
Know Before You Go
You can buy flat or folded cookies at the factory.