Donald Lau has been writing the messages on America’s fortune cookies for the past 30 years, but a severe case of writer’s block has caused him to pass his pen.
The chief fortune writer at Brooklyn-based Wonton Food Inc., the largest manufacturer of noodles, wrappers, and fortune cookies in the United States, has been training his successor for the past six months, according to Time magazine.
“I used to write 100 a year, but I’ve only written two or three a month over the past year,” he told the magazine.
Lau also serves as the company’s chief financial officer, so he will continue to work in that capacity when the new writer takes over.
The history of fortune cookies in America is quite murky, as both Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations have claimed ownership, writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Jesse Rhodes. Author Jennifer 8. Lee investigated the popular biscuit in her book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, and found that the cookies are likely of Japanese origin, but they became associated with Chinese cultures 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 tells NBC News in the video above that when he arrived working at the company, his English was best among the group, so he was given the job of writing the cookies’ fortunes.
“I guess I got the job by default,” he said.
Over the years, Lau said he wanted his fortune messages to make diners happy, a sentiment he’s passed onto his successor, James Wong. Diners can always take matters into their own hands ― Wonton Food Inc. offers custom fortune cookies that allow customers to write their own fortunes.