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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora