For more than 30 years, Ray Richmond poured his writing talents as an entertainment journalist and TV critic into the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Orange County Register, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Nowadays, his best lines are going into fortune cookies, although not just any fortune cookie. Last year Richmond founded the Super Accurate Fortune Cookies business and in the vernacular of his old job, he's been an overnight success.
Richmond, 55, was a popular freelancer who wrote about the entertainment industry from Los Angeles -- a job that put him in touch with the industry's powerful movers and shakers. But after more than three decades, as he described it, it had just stopped being much fun. That, and the recession caused a lot of his steady work to dry up.
"But mostly, it was me," said Richmond. "I was writing about entertainment and I realized that I had stopped caring about the people I was writing about. I wasn't cool enough anymore. My passion had disappeared." He still keeps a hand in it, doing occasional features, but he knew he needed something to do with the rest of his life -- and find another outlet for his writing. He found his answer in fortune cookies.
Fortune cookies were overdue for a makeover. The fortunes in fortune cookies, he said, "hadn't been updated in 200 years or so and always had this kind of somber, serious tone." He added, "They were all things like 'Happiness will find you,' or 'From knowledge comes wisdom.'" Given the premium that today's culture places on clever soundbites, Richmond found his niche. "Fortune cookies are the original tweets," he said.
Capturing the snarkiness of the day, his Super Accurate Fortune Cookie fortunes certainly read more like something on Twitter. "Somebody just died. Quick, grab their apartment!" is a staple of his New York collection. "Don't worry, it's only a pedestrian. You've hit them before," is in the Los Angeles fortune cookie box, as is "You can't drive today. In fact, you can't do anything -- it's raining."
He has a new collection selling for Valentine's Day and developed fortune cookies especially for Christmas and Chanukah. He also does custom cookies by order for special occasions. He personalizes them by interviewing the subject -- a skill honed from his days as a reporter.
A box of 10 cookies packaged in a Chinese food take-out box costs about $10. The cookies are manufactured in Indianapolis. "Yes, these are American-made fortune cookies," he quipped.
Richmond says that writing fortunes satisfies his need to be a writer. "I go around all day and hear and see things and say to my wife, 'That's a great fortune -- write it down!'" He says he "always adored journalism" and, in fact, "lived for it." But when times change, we need to change along with them, he added.
"My bank account was stagnating, work was drying up. I started out in the days of manual typewriters and was inspired by 'All The President's Men' -- this was my entire life. [But] it had just stopped being fun" And now? "I'm having a blast!"
Career evolution isn't something people who are post50 should fear, he said. He invested about $50,000 of his nest-egg to launch this business last March and said he was prepared to lose it if his idea fizzled. But the result thus far seems to be a sizzle, not fizzle. He took orders for more than 1,200 boxes of fortune cookies at a single recent trade show and is expanding his line to include more holidays.
"This is why I started this business," said Richmond. "I figured that I could be one of a couple of million aging, underemployed, penniless, embittered freelance journalists struggling to make ends meet ... or the only guy doing what I’m doing with fortune cookies. The latter option -- unpredictable and circuitous though it may be -- seemed infinitely more palatable.”
And what might a fortune cookie for midlifers say?
“You will live long enough to become a burden to your children, if you haven’t already.”
Or: “We will still need you and feed you when you’re 64. But all bets are off at 65.”
Or, perhaps best of all: "You will become your parents."