News / USA

Company's Fortunes Rest on Cookies

Immigrant success story is now part of community

The soft pancakes are ready to be stuffed with a fortune and folded, all within 10 seconds, to become a traditional fortune cookie.
The soft pancakes are ready to be stuffed with a fortune and folded, all within 10 seconds, to become a traditional fortune cookie.

Multimedia

Audio
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

The rush begins in the morning at the Tsue Chong factory in Seattle, Washington's International District. Every day, dozens of cars pull up to stock up on the golden brown cookies with a saying inside.

“Customers come in, they double park," says factory owner Tim Louie. "They come in, load up their trucks and take off; not a very long stop, maybe five minutes.”

The business was established in 1917 by Louie's great-grandfather, who emigrated from China.

The company makes most of its money from manufacturing noodles. But what most customers in the area know Tsue Chong for is fortune cookies. You can find them in almost every Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood.

A Tsue Chong factory worker prepares to ship out a box of fortune cookies.
A Tsue Chong factory worker prepares to ship out a box of fortune cookies.

At Jade Garden restaurant, a few blocks down the street, Alan Sidell is enjoying dim sum for lunch. He's been coming to the International District for most of his life, and the fortune cookie factory is an integral part of his neighborhood memories.

“They had a screen door that was open and you could walk down the street and you could watch the fortune cookie machines twirling around, and you saw the attendants placing each fortune into the dough before it was closed up.”

Fortune cookies are a staple at U.S. Chinese restaurants. The wafers are folded around a small slip of paper. The fortunes are pithy, but cryptic, like: "Good things come in invisible packages" and "Accept the next proposition you hear."

No one knows where or when the cookies originated. Some say the idea came from the Chinese who put notes in mooncakes to warn of the Mongolian invasion in the late-13th century. A Japanese scholar cites the city of Kyoto, Japan as the birth place of the fortune cookie. Tim Louie has a hunch they were created in San Francisco.

Tsue Chong factory in Seattle, Washington, was established in 1917 and now produces almost 30 million fortune cookies a year.
Tsue Chong factory in Seattle, Washington, was established in 1917 and now produces almost 30 million fortune cookies a year.

Whatever their origin, Tsue Chong began baking them in the 1950s. And today, fortune cookies make up a quarter of its business.

The top floor of the factory, where most of the production takes place, is filled mostly with a diversity of noodles, but one corner is devoted to fortune cookies.

First comes the batter, blended in large mixers.

“It starts off with six ingredients. This is my grandma's original recipe," says Louie. "Wheat flour, sugar, vanilla, water, eggs and coconut shortening. And the batter is really thin. It's almost like a pancake or crepe batter.”

Workers carry the batter in buckets to large, round machines.

“There's a tube that goes in there and it siphons it up and pumps it onto round griddles, a couple of tablespoons [about 30 milliliters] per griddle. And as the carousel turns, a lid sets down and flattens and spreads the batter out.”

According to factory owner Tim Louie, fortune cookies make up about one-quarter of his business.
According to factory owner Tim Louie, fortune cookies make up about one-quarter of his business.

The batter turns into a mini-pancake. The round cookie is still soft for about 10 seconds, enough time to finish the work. Decades ago, women bakery workers would put the fortunes into the warm cookies and fold them by hand. Today, machines do it.

“The fortunes are all stacked a top of that tray. And by a vacuum, it'll pluck one off the tray and stuff it into the cookie.”

Tsue Chong makes almost 30 million cookies a year.

Louie says the company has been fortunate, despite recent hard economic times.

“I won't say we were recession-proof, but we were able to survive it, where a lot of other business, 35-40 years old, did not survive. So I believe just manufacturing food because people have to eat, we were able to weather the recession.”

Even though restaurant orders were down, supermarkets bought more items from Tsue Chong because more people were eating at home more. But as the business goes forward, Tim Louie says he is not going to leave his company's future to luck.

He plans to make the production process more efficient and wants to improve his fortunes, by moving into new markets along the West Coast.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs