San Francisco fortune cookie shop named to legacy registry

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- This year's Chinese New Year celebration falls on Saturday, Jan. 28 and the festivities for three Chinatown businesses that have been added to the San Francisco legacy registry will likely be much more special because of the designation.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is one of the Chinatown businesses that has been added to the municipal registry -- a designation marking it as a historic asset.

The business, located at 56 Ross Alley, began in Chinatown in 1962 by a family who immigrated from China. The fortune cookie factory is tucked away in an alley and is small -- but it's rich in history.

Nancy Chan greets customers who walk into the store. When asked what are the ingredients in the cookies, she says: "flour, sesame, butter, sugar and eggs."

Chan says she has a simple business motto: she's happy when customers are happy.

"Make cookie. Buy some cookie. Eat a cookie. Very happy," says the 65-year-old shop owern in limited English.

Visitors to the Chinatown show hail from Florida, Kansas and other faraway locations that include Singapore and France. 

Chan's son, Kevin, says the business depends on steady flow of foot traffic to stay afloat but online reviews of the shop also help lure customers.

"People tend to like to watch how we make" the cookies, he said.

Restaurants used to comprise a big chunk of the shop's commercial customers but many of them no longer purchase Chan's fortune cookies. Speaking in Cantonese, Chan says the high cost of ingredients has meant the loss of some customers and slimmed the firm's profits.

Three machines churn out the cookies and the workers average about 350 of the treats per hour. The cookies are removed from the griddle while hot, paired with a paper fortune and then plied into its final shape. 

"This is a San Francisco invention," Kevin Chan said. "This is San Francisco pride."

Chan said the store's business jumps about 20 percent during the Chinese New Year celebration, a special occasion that attracts locals and visitors.

"Food unites people in many different ways," said Norman Fong, executive director of the non-profit Chinatown Community Development Center, which helped the cookie factory and other businesses receive recognition from the city as a historic asset.

The designation provides incentives to landlords who sign long-term leases, a way to support small businesses that can fall prey to soaring rents.

"I am proud that the city is willing to invest and help save these businesses," Fong said.

Nancy Chan said she has not set a date on when she'll retire but she hopes to pass her business down to her son, Kevin, as they hope the Year of the Rooster will bring continued good fortune.

By KTVU reporter Amber Lee.