Above the Fold

Inside San Francisco's Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

May 15, 2012

Photographer Andria Lo

Tucked away down an alley in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been mixing, baking and hand-folding its cookies since 1962. It is frequented by tourists year round, who vie for a glimpse of the cookie’s life cycle before it ends up next to sliced oranges on Lazy Susans across the globe. But most tourists don’t know that the hand-folded demonstration is actually a romanticized notion of the genesis of these ubiquitous cookies.

“Despite its quaint appeal, the little shop is an anachronism,” Jennifer 8. Lee writes about the factory in her 2008 book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. “In reality, fortune cookies are rarely folded by hand anymore. Sleek industrial machines bake, stuff and fold the cookies, then wrap them in plastic, with little human intervention. They can churn out 6,000 per hour, compared to 1,000 an hour each for the women in Ross Alley.”

But the little shop persists. We visited the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to discover the secret to its fortunes.

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE: A few questions for the fortune cookie makers

Q: Where do you think fortune cookies originated from?

A: Japan.

Q: What are the ingredients?

A: Butter, egg, sugar, flour, almond, banana, sesame, water.

Q: How has the factory's clientele changed over time?

A: Mostly tourists, and most are European.

Q: Why do you fold the cookies by hand instead of using a machine?

A: It's the original way and no one else does it.

Q: Where do your paper fortunes come from?

A: A printing company chooses them. They have about 100 sayings.

Q: How do you view the "lucky" numbers?

A: They're just a random pick of numbers.

YOUR PERSISTENCE WILL BE REWARDED: A closer look at a humble cookie, from expert Jennifer 8. Lee.


Andria Lo is a documentary photographer and the director of photography for Hyphen magazine. Nicole Wong is a contributing editor for Hyphen magazine.

See the winning and runner-up photos from Hyphen's Fortune Cookie Photo Contest.

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Nicole Wong

Senior Editor

Nicole Wong is a senior editor for Hyphen living in San Francisco. By day, she's a media engagement strategist at Active Voice, tackling social issues through the creative use of film.