A serious episode of writer’s block has forced the writer of America’s fortune cookies for the last three decades, Donald Lau, to stop penning fortunes.
Lau is the chief fortune writer at Wonton Food Inc. and has been coaching his replacement for the last six months. The Brooklyn-based company is the biggest manufacturer of wrappers, noodles and fortune cookies in the entire United States. However, Lau is also the chief financial officer (CFO) at Wonton Foods Inc., so he will carry on as the CFO when he stops writing, instead of leaving the company completely.
“I used to write 100 a year, but I’ve only written two or three a month over the past year,” he said.
Smithsonian Magazine writer, Jesse Rhodes, says the fact that both Japanese and Chinese immigrant communities in America claim they invented fortune cookies, makes finding their true origin difficult. Jennifer 8. Lee is the author of the book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, and she spent a long time researching the cookie’s origin. Lee says the fortune cookies are probably originally Japanese, but were linked with Chinese culture after World War II.
“When Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, their bakeries that produced the cookies were shuttered,” Rhodes writes of Lee’s findings. “Chinese entrepreneurs stepped in to fill the void and by the end of the war they were indelibly associated with fortune cookies, whose popularity had spread nationwide.”
Lau said that when he initially started working for Wonton Foods Inc., he spoke English better than any other employees, and that landed him the job of chief fortune writer.
“I guess I got the job by default,” he said.
He also said that throughout his career, he’s always hoped his fortune messages leave diners feeling pleased. Lau’s successor, James Wong, has picked up this desire from Lau too. Wonton Foods Inc. also makes custom fortune cookies that let clients write their own fortunes, so diners can have control over their own fortunes if they’d prefer.