Today I helped Noah’s Bagels celebrate “20 Years of Bagels and Shmears.” I sat at a table outside the original store on College Avenue & Alcatraz in Berkeley for three hours signing Business Mensch at a “preview” event, and had the pleasure of interacting with a diverse cross-section of people coming to Noah’s for their Sunday morning bagels.
Sitting outside in the cool morning, I was warmed by the friendly people who stopped to talk with me. I talked at length with a pediatrician who was working with child obesity and whose son was an aspiring entrepreneur. She bought a book from the stack we had on display and had it inscribed especially for her son. An older gentleman came over to the table and called me by name. I did not recognize him until he explained that his wife was my sister’s college roommate some 55 years ago!
I spoke with teens, young adults, dads with babes in arms, moms with toddlers in tow, joggers, and seniors. I spoke with Noah’s equipment repair people who make sure that Noah’s equipment is functional in the entire state of California every second of every day who were happy to meet me and be part of the “team.” I spoke with a former Boston Red Sox outfielder who came by with his wife and baby in a stroller, and we talked about healthy snack items he is trying to bring to market. A friendly Asian woman told me how much she loved the store, and how thrilled she was to meet me.
My son David, a talented musician, provided some background guitar and chiranga tunes. A gentleman with a Caribbean accent stopped to talk with me and buy a book, and he then borrowed the guitar and sang us a little ditty from his native Trinidad and Tobago.
My brother (who was involved with me in Noah’s Bagels) and his kids, who worked at various Noah’s locations during their high school years, came by for a visit. So did parents of Noah’s employees from years and years ago. One of these parents reminded me that there are many young adults in the Bay Area and beyond who spent at least some time as Noah’s employees while in high school, and/or college. When I sold the business, we had 38 stores, and 1000 employees. The company now has 77 stores, and presumably almost twice that many employees. The average employee lasts approximately six months. If you do the math, it equates to thousands and thousands of employees over the twenty-year span.
One important residual effect of a successful business is that it puts a lot of people to work. Not that big business is necessarily good, but… the bigger the business grows, the more people it puts to work. As I talked with the Noah’s Senior Vice President of Operations, Brad West, and Gina Russo, Area Hospitality Manger, they told me that creating a community feel was the #1 priority for the company. I was encouraged by their dedication, and the focus on people. It is certainly harder to create a “high touch” environment in a big company, but it seems like a serious attempt is being made. Brad commented that when a customer in Sacramento thought that the entire chain was the six stores in her region, he was thrilled. This is what I want, he said, “that people think of us as a neighborhood store.”
When I operated the College Avenue store almost 1000 customers a day would come in, each and everyone as unique as California itself. It is gratifying to realize that something I created and operated has continued for almost 14 years without me, and that many people– employees, customers, vendors, and community members alike still feel a connection and affection for the company. Sometimes you get a chance to kvell.* Today was mine.
P.S. Next Sunday Aug. 30, I will be at the Noah’s store in Lafayette, CA. Come by and say hello if you’re in the neighborhood.
*Kvell: (Yiddish) To be extraordinarily proud, rejoice