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.

    Noah's Bagels

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.

To learn more about Noah visit: Noah Alper Consulting. To get your own copy of Business Mensch check out Amazon.


17 Replies to "Interview with Noah Alper, Founder of Noah's Bagels"

  • Dave Doolin
    January 5, 2010 (6:26 pm)
    Reply

    I have an article brewing on “following your passion” as a business model (i.e., usually not a good idea).

    Mr. Alpert’s advice “Follow your passion but don’t let it take over basic business rules.” is spot on!
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog post: Made to Stick: Earworms for your brain =-.

    • Ben Lang
      January 5, 2010 (6:34 pm)
      Reply

      Hi Dave,
      Yes it’s a classic mistake made by many entrepreneurs, including myself sometimes…

  • Sandy Dempsey
    January 6, 2010 (4:44 am)
    Reply

    Hi Ben,

    Just wanted to congratulate you on a great interview. You asked very good questions.

    I was pleased to see that you explored the topic of ‘failure’. Many people are afraid to ask this question, but it is how we learn.

    Keep up the good work.

    Sandy

    • Ben Lang
      January 6, 2010 (5:54 am)
      Reply

      Hi Sandy,
      Thanks I appreciate it, and I’m very glad that you enjoyed it. I see a failure as a positive/neccessary thing, one of the best ways to learn about entrepreneurship is through failure. Best regards.

  • Shirley
    January 6, 2010 (12:42 pm)
    Reply

    Great interview, Ben, it’s always good to learn from the experienced :).

    Great pic of you two :).
    .-= Shirley´s last blog post: Top 30 Young Entrepreneur Blogs Of 2009 =-.

    • Ben Lang
      January 6, 2010 (5:57 pm)
      Reply

      Thanks! I really enjoyed it, I’m glad that you did also 🙂

  • Shonika Proctor
    January 6, 2010 (1:03 pm)
    Reply

    My Takeaways:

    1. It is important for people to realize that when they start a business, it is for their customers, not for themselves.

    2. Passion is not necessarily what you are good at but moreso what’s good for you as in what fulfills you. You may not be necessarily good at a certain thing but if something fascinates you and fills your spirit even if you don’t know about how to do it, you are more driven to figure it out. When you tie that into serving your customer AND solving a problem for the market, that is when you can build a business that is not necessarily a ‘bubble’. In the end Noah was still focused on his social mission, he just had to carry out his idea in a different way.

    3. Giving should be what you do at the beginning of your business and not at the end. Do good for goodness sake…I second that! 🙂
    .-= Shonika Proctor´s last blog post: How and Why Teen Entrepreneurs Publish Books =-.

    • Ben Lang
      January 6, 2010 (6:01 pm)
      Reply

      Hey Shonika,

      1. Very true.
      2. Well put! That’s exactly what Noah was saying.
      3. I’m going to have to third that! And I sure as heck know that you believe in that from what I’ve seen you do. You are one of the greatest at “do good for goodness sake.” 🙂

  • tony ramirez
    January 7, 2010 (1:21 am)
    Reply

    “Tikun Olam,” (repairing the world)
    Thats what it’s about, making the world
    a better place.
    Thanks for sharing this interview Ben!

    • Meir
      January 7, 2010 (9:37 am)
      Reply

      There are a lot of different interpretations of “Tikun Olam”, some being more mystical than others including the Kabbalistic idea that the world is really broken and can be fixed by prayers, contemplation…
      But at the end of the day, “tikkun olam” remains always connected with human responsibility for fixing what is wrong with the world.

  • Tweets that mention Interview with Noah Alper, Founder of Noah’s Bagels | Ben-Lang.com -- Topsy.com
    January 7, 2010 (9:21 pm)
    Reply

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  • Car Transporters | Igor
    January 12, 2010 (4:37 pm)
    Reply

    Nice interview, Very good point when Mr. Alper said, find the negatives of a business before the benefits. I found that really interesting.

    • Ben Lang
      January 17, 2010 (11:26 am)
      Reply

      Thanks, I agree with him for sure. You must think about what could wrong in a business venture before what could go well.

  • Marikxon Manurung
    January 17, 2010 (8:04 am)
    Reply

    I like the 3rd question and also the answer.
    That’s the most important thing that we need to learn from someone who is success in their business. so we should not make the same failure.

    Marikxon Manurung
    .-= Marikxon Manurung´s last blog post: Portable Tub Spa =-.

    • Ben Lang
      January 17, 2010 (11:28 am)
      Reply

      Exactly, there is so much more to learn from a failure than a success. 🙂

  • Sharon
    September 17, 2010 (12:17 pm)
    Reply

    First of all thanks for doing the interview. Great blog post for inspiration. And second thing, I just love the work he’s done. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ben Lang
      September 17, 2010 (12:33 pm)
      Reply

      Thanks Sharon, glad you enjoyed it!


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