Interview with Noah Alper, Founder of Noah’s Bagels
Posted on January 5, 2010
This is the first of a series of interviews of outstanding, unique entrepreneurs. These exclusive interviews will focus on their experience as entrepreneurs and will offer advice for young entrepreneurs.
My first interview is with Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels in Northern California as well as of five other prior businesses. Six and a half years after launching his bagel business, Noah sold it for 100 million dollars. On my recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was fortunate enough to have a face-to-face interview with him in his hometown of Berkeley.
Q: Can you introduce yourself in a few sentences?
A: I’m Noah Alper. I was born in Brookline, MA, went to NYU and University of Wisconsin where I graduated in 1969. I am a “serial entrepreneur,” having started some 6 businesses and am currently a business consultant.
Q: What was your most successful business?
A: Noah’s Bagels for sure. I sold it after six and half years of operation for 100 million dollars.
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Q: What was your biggest failure?
A: Holy Land Gifts Company was my least successful venture. The idea was to import giftware from Israel to Christians in America. However, it failed after two years of planning and one year of operating.
Q: What did you learn from your failure?
A: I learned two things:
- You must know your customers really well, “know what they eat for breakfast everyday.”
- Make sure to not confuse your social mission with your business. When I opened the company, I was so passionate about helping Israeli businesses sell their products that I didn’t think enough about my customers’ needs.
Q: You brought a lot of your religious belief into Noah’s Bagels. Why did you mix business with religion? Did it help?
A: I launched Noah’s Bagels after I shut down Holy Land Gifts. I wanted to find a way to bring my passion for Israel and Jewish culture into the bagel business. I would say though, that the product itself was what contributed to the major success of the chain. The authentic, delicious bagels brought customers. Also, I believe in what’s called “Tikun Olam,” (repairing the world) which essentially is community service and projects. When a new store was opened, we would organize some kind of project for the community, which would ensure the loyalty of our future customers.
Q: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
A: It’s a three-pronged answer:
- Follow your passion but don’t let it take over basic business rules.
- Do research, find the negatives of a business before the benefits. Ask yourself why aren’t many other people in this business. Then consider the upside of the business and its potentials. And always remember to run the idea by other people.
- Doing good is always good for business. In other words, doing the right thing will always benefit you. Take care of your customers, community and staff correctly treating them as you would treat yourself.
Q: So I heard you wrote a book called Business Mensch. Why did you decide to write a book? What its main message?
A: I’ve been in business for 38 years and have many lessons to share. In some ways it’s a personal memoir for others to learn from and for my descendants to know me. The title of the book means business man; “mensch” means man in German, or God’s man in Yiddish. The message of this book is essentially doing good is good for business.
Q: What are your current plans?
A: For now I’m a business consultant. I help entrepreneurs start out, give them guidance, planning and marketing advice. For example, I’ve helped one person launch a kosher hot dog business, another start an upscale kosher English food line, and yet another bring a 100-year-old pruned candy recipe to market.
Q: What are your interests outside of business?
A: I enjoy skiing, and I take a 300-mile bike ride every year in Israel to benefit the Alyn Rehab Hospital in Jerusalem.