I had the opportunity to hear Noah Alper speak a few months ago at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. If you don’t know of Noah Alper you probably live on the East Coast. But out here in the West he’s not only famous for his bagel chain, Noah’s Bagels, but for his success in selling Noah’s to Einstein Bagels for a whopping $100 million back in 1995.
Although the sale made him a millionaire many times over, Noah Alper’s heart has always been in the right place. As he explains in his book, Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today’s Entrepreneur, his goal wasn’t to start a large bagel franchise and eventually sell it for millions of dollars but rather to simply make bagels the way he remembered them as a kid growing up on the East Coast.
His timing couldn’t have been better. Back in 1989, the year he opened his first Noah’s New York Bagels (as it was called at the time), a subtle shift had taken place in how Jews saw themselves. In the 1950s and 1960s Jews spread across the United States, settling down in the suburbs and blending into American life. This assimilation was reflected in our foods as well: mass production saw the bagel’s rise to popularity as an American breakfast food but often with techniques that rendered it a bland shadow of its former self.
Starting in the 1970s Jews began a return to their roots. The “Gentleman’s Agreement” of the previous decades gave way to Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” Suddenly it was hip to be Jewish and Jewish cultural pride led to a renaissance in other aspects of Jewish life, from its religious traditions to its beleaguered cuisine.
Although he was probably unaware of it at the time, Noah Alper’s business vision meshed perfectly with the public’s hunger for a return to their culinary roots and the nostalgia associated with that earlier time. Between Alper’s “authentic” bagels, signage that harkened to all things New York by replicating the New York subway system, and the community service projects which cemented the connection between store and consumer, Noah’s Bagels was an immediate hit and quickly expanded from its Berkeley location to stores up and down the West coast.
The public’s search for authenticity in all aspects of life continues unabated to this day.
Copyright 2011 The Jewish Zodiac, LLC.
Seth Front is the creator of the Jewish Zodiac®, a deli food parody of the Chinese zodiac, and a screenwriter (“Nickel and Dime”) who writes about his seriocomic Jewish life at blog.jewzo.com.