Noah Alper, who sold Noah’s New York Bagels for $100 million 6½ years after founding it , is now a consultant to aspiring entrepreneurs and a motivational speaker. In his new book, he weaves together Jewish ethical teachings and more than
35 years of business and nonprofit management experience.
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
My father. Dad was a food broker in New England. I always felt growing up that he was more suited to be a college professor than a businessman. He was wise and liked to expound a lot. “Doing good is good for business,” he taught me. He prided himself on treating his workers well, and he got re-paid by employee loyalty and dedication. He also was very involved in volunteer work as well. He came from the town of Brookline, Mass. — about as big as Berkeley. He had a significant leadership role in various functions of the town and also did a bunch of volunteer work. He demonstrated commitment to his community, a positive world view and leaving the world a better place. Tikkun olam (“repairing the world” in Hebrew).
Is there a golden rule by which you live?
I guess it’s kind of the golden rule. Do unto others. The traditional golden rule is what we have come to say. [Its origin is that] Rabbi Hillel was asked in somewhat of a confrontational situation to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot. [He said] “What is hurtful to you, do not do to others.” It was flipped a little by today’s standards to emphasize the point a little more. The next thing he said was, “Now go and study it” (meaning the Torah; meaning I can’t really do that on one foot).
If we all paid attention to [the golden rule], we’d be in a little different world. We have gone so far away from any collection notion of the world; it’s all about “me.” If you look at Hebrew prayers, they are collective prayers: “We should all have a healthy year; Our crops should grow …”
Where or to whom do you turn to in tough times?
I would say my wife. We pretty much share everything.
Where do you find inspiration?
From Jewish tradition. That’s my strongest influence in myriad ways. In the manner of tikkun olam, we need to leave the world a better place. There’s no time to waste. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but it’s something that has become almost an obsession to me, that every moment counts.
Is there something about you that people would find surprising?
That my birth name was Norman.
What would you most want to hear your colleagues say about you?
He was a mensch [a good person, in Yiddish].
How did you get into the world of bagels?
I was looking for a business to buy or to start or a job, which would’ve been my first job as an adult. My brother suggested that I go into the bagel business. He saw a bagel business in Montreal and thought it would be successful in Berkeley. I spent a year thinking about it and researching it. I decided to do it and stepped on the gas. The first store opened in 1989.