The Umeya Rice Cake Co, as we know it today, was founded in 1924 by three Hamano brothers on Weller Street (now "Weller Court") in Los Angeles, California. Originally fortune cookies were made by hand with flat round irons—2000 cookies a day! They were delivered by trucks to restaurants, stores, and fruit stands from Santa Maria to San Diego.
Umeya was shutdown in World War II due to the evacuation of all Japanese Americans. Manufacturing resumed in Denver, Colorado in 1943 and Umeya became the only supplier of traditional sweet snacks to the internment camps. After the war, Umeya eventually returned to Los Angeles. Today, Umeya manufactures a full line of rice crackers.
The fortune cookie, a "Chinese icon," is an American invention. As the first Japanese American company to mass produce fortune cookies in the United States, Umeya played an important role in popularizing the fortune cookie as it is now a part of American culinary and pop culture. Pre-war, Umeya distributed fortune cookies to the 120-150 Japanese-owned Chinese restaurants throughoutCentral and Southern California. Umeya has distributed nationwide and globally including Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Europe, Mexico, Guam, Australia, and South America.
Umeya’s fortune cookies were featured in Jack Lemmon’s movie “The Fortune Cookie”; in McDonald’s nationwide Oriental meal campaign in the 80’s; and at the opening of EuroDisney in the 90’s. Umeya maintains high standards in both quality of production and the moral standards of its fortune messages. The company also offers childrens’ fortunes with “Just Say No To Drugs” messages and themed Halloween, Spanish, and Japanese fortunes. In 1945, the Hamano family had no guideposts or tools from Japan to manufacture mochi or arare. Creativity mixed with trial and error was the order of the day. Today, most aspects of production have been mechanized: from washing the rice, steaming, kneading, cutting, drying, toasting, and flavoring.