In the words of Alex and Alicia of the Oakland Fortune Cookie Factory
Tell us about your business, its history, and traditions.
We're the oldest Fortune cookie factory in the United States. Our company was founded in 1957 by Calvin Wong and his family. We are the last fortune cookie company in America that makes cookies entirely by hand.
The factory has witnessed many changes in Oakland Chinatown in the last 64 years. We get a lot of visitors who say they visited us when they were kids and now, they’re bringing their grandkids to visit.
Our most important goal is to preserve the history and culture of the factory for future generations. The recipe, equipment, and process have not changed since the day we opened so people will notice that our cookies are quite different from the ones typically sold nowadays.
We also try to add something new by experimenting with new flavors and designs in our cookies. For instance, at Christmas, we make chocolate and crushed candy cane fortune cookies.
We feel we have a responsibility to share the interesting history of fortune cookies as well as to challenge what people think a fortune cookie can look and taste like.
What do you think makes Oakland a unique place?
There was an article in the newspaper saying that Oakland, California is a glimpse of the future. That article was printed 13 years ago, and it’s definitely coming true as the diversity and complexities of our country continue to evolve and grow.
People who have been to other places in America will know that Oakland is truly a diverse place with a rich, vibrant history. This history of minority cultures in Oakland fosters the growth of small niche communities that don’t exist anywhere else.
The drumming group at Lake Merritt and the Farmer Markets are some of my favorite places to see. I especially love street festivals. I can’t think of anywhere else where you can get Jamaican, Thai, Korean, and Soul food all on the same block.
It’s places like these in Oakland that really bring people together and allow cultures to celebrate each other.
What was your experience like growing up here or in the surrounding Bay Area?
It was a lot quieter when I was growing up in Oakland.
I grew up in a predominantly Black and Hispanic community. As a child I thought this diversity was the norm. I didn't start meeting lots of people who weren’t People of Color until college.
Traveling outside of the Bay Area was initially a culture shock. The diversity that I grew up with was definitely not present in other places.
People were also surprised to hear that I grew up in Oakland. It didn’t have a good reputation then. Oakland used to be the place where people moved to if they couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco.
This image has changed drastically as everyone is moving into Oakland as the cool new place to be. With this change, the cost of living has risen and businesses are changing to cater to the new demographics.
Businesses that I grew up with have gone out of business and replaced with higher-end, more expensive shops. Many old buildings have been torn down and replaced with big, fancy apartments and skyscrapers.
While this change will bring more economic opportunities for Oakland, it saddens me to see so many of the things I grew up with being pushed out or replaced.
I grew up in a suburban town and quickly fell in love with Oakland after being here for a few years. There is a huge sense of community and it's very different from where I grew up.
My neighborhood was not as friendly or welcoming and everyone just kept to themselves. We'd have our annual events downtown but it just felt like going through the motions without much change each year. In contrast, Oakland celebrates the differences and individualities of its people.
How have you been dealing with the pandemic?
Our business has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, with a 60% reduction in orders. It’s been extraordinarily daunting but we try our best to stay afloat and maintain stable jobs for our employees.
We’ve closed our store to the public to protect our employees and customers and are focusing on curbside pickup and online orders.
Last March we started offering 'cookie care packages' that people can send to their families around the country. The box of cookies included a fun Fortune Cookie Charades-like game for family and kids to play while they stayed indoors.
We’ve also handed out cookies with messages of gratitude and support to essential workers during the quarantine. Our hope is to help spread some positivity and cheer during these stressful times.
How can people best support you in these crazy times?
We really appreciate Oaklandish and are very inspired by them. We think they are a staple in Oakland culture and do a great job at representing Oakland's best.
Oakland is diverse and Oakland is proud. 'We Are Oaklandish' is a storytelling project created to highlight just that.
These are stories that shed light on the different experiences, memories, and opinions of the people in the city we all love. They are people who give our city its oddball spirit, its passion for justice, and its creative vigor. They lift us up with laughter, peace, nourishment, and authentic hard work.
They make us proud to call this town our home. They are Oaklandish.
Read more: We Are Oaklandish