Here's our interview with Alex and Alicia of the Oakland Fortune Cookie Factory!
1. Explain a bit about the business. When did it start, who started it, what does it mean to the both of you to be running something created generations ago and what do you do to preserve some of that tradition?
We're the oldest Fortune cookie factory. The factory was started in 1957 by Calvin Wong and his family. The factory has seen a lot of changes in Oakland Chinatown over the past 64 years. We get a lot of visitors who’d tell us how they visited us when they were kids and now, they’re bringing their grandkids to visit. Our goal is to preserve the history and culture of the factory for future generations. The recipe, equipment, and process have all been preserved since the day it first started and people will notice that our cookies are very different from the ones that are made nowadays. We also try to bring something new by experimenting with new flavors and designs in our cookies (ie peppermint chocolate/crushed candy cane fortune cookies for Christmas). We feel that we have a responsibility in sharing the history of fortune cookies with people and also challenging what people think a fortune cookie can look and taste like.
2. 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. Street festivals especially, 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.
3. What was your experience like growing up here or in the surrounding Bay Area? If you didn’t grow up here, what are the main differences you have about Oakland or the Bay Area and the place you grew up in?
Alicia: It was a lot quieter growing up in Oakland, I grew up in a predominantly Black and Hispanic community. As a child I thought this diversity was the norm. It wasn’t until college when I started meeting more people who weren’t POC. 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 living 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.
Alex: 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.
4. How have you been dealing with the Covid-19 era as a local Oakland business?
Our business has been significantly impacted by Covid-19, with a 60% reduction in orders. It’s been extremely daunting but we try our best to stay afloat and keep stable jobs for our employees. We’ve since closed our store to the public to protect our employees and customers. We’ve since focused on curbside pickup/online orders. During 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 also gave out cookies with messages of gratitude and support to essential workers during quarantine. Our hope is to help spread some positivity and cheer during these stressful times.
5. Where can people find/order/or best support you?
Our website. We’re also active on Instagram @thefortunecookiefactory. 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.
Check out this video we shot of the cookie making process!