As It Happens

Meet the new writer for one of the world's biggest fortune cookie makers

As It Happens speaks to the man taking over as chief fortune cookie writer at New York's Wonton Food.
James Wong's writing will soon be read by millions of people worldwide. He's the new chief fortune cookie writer for New York's Wonton Food. (James Wong)

Read story transcript

The man who is arguably among the most widely read writers in the world has called it quits, but his protegé​ is more than ready to take the reins.

James Wong, 41, spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about taking over as the new chief fortune cookie writer at New York's Wonton Food, which bills itself as the U.S.'s largest manufacturer of fortune cookies, noodles, and other Chinese staples.

"It definitely is a lot of fun," Wong says. "I enjoy every moment of it."

So what does it take to write good bite-sized fortune?

"​A sense of connection to the audience," Wong says.

"It's not always easy to have that because the audience is just so diverse, it could be anyone that's reading, and it takes a lot to really just focus on what your message is supposed to be, but at the same time keeping it real for someone that might be reading it."

In other words, it has to be just the right mix of generic and specific.  

Writer's block 

Wong says he's up to the task. He was trained by the best, after all.

Wonton Food manufactures millions of fortune cookies a day. (Wonton Food)

His predecessor, Donald Lau, announced his retirement earlier this month after more than 30 years of penning predictions.

"I have writer's block," Lau told Time magazine. "I used to write 100 a year, but I've only written two or three a month over the past year." 

Indeed, one of Wong's goals is to churn out as many new fortunes as possible. One of the chief complaints the company gets, he says, is too many repeat fortunes.

He says he's been jotting down ideas on scraps of paper whenever they come to him.

"It could be on anything," he said. "I do have a collection of gum wrappers and napkins and even toilet paper."

Fit to print?

The other key to a good fortune, he says, is not to offend.

"There are many things we have to pay attention to, especially in the current political environment, there are a lot of sensitivities we need to be aware of," he said.

That's why each fortune goes through a "vetting committee" before it ever makes it to print, he says. 

It could be anyone that's reading.- James Wong 

But he admits you can't always please everyone. Asked about a time someone complained about their fortune, Wong tells a story about a married couple. 

"A middle aged couple was having dinner before the man was supposed to go off to a business trip, and the fortune that he received was, 'Romance is in the air for your next trip.' That definitely was not a good thing," Wong says. 

A good fortune is applicable to anyone who reads it, Wong says. (James Wong)

The pair eventually divorced, and Wonton Food got a call from the woman's lawyer.

"Apparently, they were already having trouble with their marriage and the wife blames everything that went wrong in their marriage on us."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with James Wong.

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