by Xinhua writers Xia Lin, Wu Xiaoling, Zhang Mocheng
SAN FRANCISCO, April 11 (Xinhua) -- It is not a cookie shop, but a workshop, museum and club all combined into one. Some 15,000 cookie products are baked on three antique machines and then folded and packed by hand on a daily basis.
The walls are decorated by family murals, congratulation letters, trophies and fame certificates. Shoppers and fans come in from all over the United States and even overseas to taste its fortune cookies, marveling at the words of wisdom wrapped within.
Moreover, they waste no time talking to co-owner Kevin Chan about the history of his beloved small trade which was inducted to San Francisco's Legacy Business Program three years ago.
"The customers make it all worth. My goal is to serve people, offer them Chinese hospitality, teach them Chinese culture, and eventually make the culture known to a wider, younger audience," said Chan, who was born in China, emigrated to America when he was eight, and did odd jobs before joining the legendary family business founded in 1962, currently the sole of its kind in the area.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, located at 56 Ross Alley in the heartland of the bustling Chinatown of San Francisco, is where Kevin found his life's true calling.
Oct. 1 this year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, for which he plans to send 70 fortune cookies with messages wishing China better and stronger folded within to Beijing and his hometown in Guangdong Province for people there to share.
"This is the way for us overseas Chinese to express our feelings on such a special occasion," he said, talking with Xinhua about how to stream live the process on its social media accounts for viewers to catch the exciting moments.
Half a dozen people circled Chan, proposing to enrich his idea by submitting either their own calligraphy or classic paintings. He recently registered a mini association in the basement of the factory for local writers, poets, painters and caricaturists of Chinese descent to meet and discuss plans to enlighten the Chinese community in perspectives of culture and history.
"We keep moving everyday. The slower you move, the faster you die," he quipped.
Chan is also a co-founder of the nonprofit organization BeChinatown, which has sponsored for lines of red lanterns to hang over two lanes nearby, adding more Chinese elements to the Edwardian-style buildings and theatrical facades of the local community. In 2019, they want to hang red lanterns above another two alleys.
"Let us contribute to our community, little by little, year by year," he told Xinhua.
WORD OF MOUTH
Besides the pursuit of cultural root and heritage, Chan is widely recognized for sustaining the handmade cookie business by switching from wholesale to retail.
Such a strategy has helped the small business outsmart large manufacturers. The family entity is no longer a production factory alone, but a sightseeing spot as well as a location for lovers or families to meet.
"We depend on steady flow of foot traffic to stay popular and afloat. Word of mouth and online reviews and pictures also help bring customers here," said Chan, who with his mother Nancy Chan work into late night to process order - many hours in the day are spent greeting droves of customers and sightseers organized by school camps and tour companies.
Chan has boycotted online sale and insists that fans and gourmets come to his factory to see, feel, taste and buy, thus transforming the business pattern from serving customers through restaurants and hotels to serving them directly by himself at the factory.
"Now, we are not only a food business. We also provide service, from where one can learn about the legend and folklore of the Chinese community," said Chan, who persuaded Nancy to agree that he hung his photos with celebrities and drew her large portrait on the walls.
Though revered as one the emerging community leaders in Chinatown, Chan still frets about the future of his factory. The city legacy program gives registered businesses grants of 500 U.S. dollars per full-time employee each year, but he had only three part-time staff members.
Prices of ingredients like flour, sesame, butter, sugar and eggs climb up steadily. To make it worse, rent has been rising by large margins, forcing him to consider relocating.
Besides, none of his children is willing to inherit the family business. "But I won't give up, for this is where I come and where I go," said Chan.