Fortune Teller

Three-time cancer survivor serves inspiration wrapped in cookies

By Arvin Temkar Posted Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:30

“Don’t worry about things you can’t control.”

It’s a simple message, but a personal one for Cheryl Ohta ’81. Her mother gave her that advice, and Ohta has drawn upon it each of the three times she’s battled cancer. 

“I can’t control the fact that I’ve had cancer,” says Ohta, who has been in remission for 12 years. “But I can control everything I do about it.”  

Ohta brings that upbeat philosophy to thousands of people around the world in a unique way: fortune cookies.   

If Plan A doesn’t work

Ohta is fortune writer and treasurer/HR manager for Hawaii Candy Inc., an 85-year-old snack food company started by her husband’s grandfather. Hawaii Candy, the leading fortune cookie producer in Hawaii, ships its products all around the state, as well as to locations on the West Coast.

For decades, the 23-employee company relied on the same fortunes in its hand-made cookies. But as times changed, many felt outdated, Ohta says. 

“We had one that was like, ‘Love is better the second time around,’” says Ohta, who studied Business Administration, Marketing at USF. Others made promises about finding romance or making money.

So, about five years ago, Hawaii Candy Inc. went through a full revamp of fortunes, tossing out many of the old messages and adding new, positive ones.

“We don’t fortune tell,” says Ohta, who writes all of the fortunes with the help of her daughter. “I know there are fortune cookies out there that say, ‘You’re going to get rich and famous,’ and all that stuff, but that’s not our goal. We want to create fortunes that are positive, upbeat, and inspirational.”

“If Plan A doesn’t work, you still have 25 letters left,” is one fortune cookie crumblers might find. Another is, “Remember the Aloha spirit,” referring to Hawaii’s distinct style of spirituality and community. There’s also Ohta’s favorite: “Don’t worry about things you can’t control” — a tribute to her mother. 

How to catch a fortune

Hawaii Candy has about 250 fortunes total, and Ohta is always on the lookout for more.

“The key to writing a good fortune is keeping your eyes and ears open,” Ohta says. She’s not one to lock herself away in a room and type them one after another on a page. Her approach is more about catching them in the wind, and jotting them down. “I have Post-its in my car and use the Notes app on my iPhone. I’ve collected hundreds.”

She sends the most interesting ones to friends and family to see what they think. Only 25 percent make the final cut.

“I want messages that, if I was opening a fortune cookie, I would want to read,” she says.

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