From a San Francisco Chronicle interview with Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels
Q: You write about how important it was that the stores be authentically New York, and authentically Jewish. What did you have to do to make that happen?
A: It involved not being afraid to be unapologetically Jewish. It sounds simplistic, but we acted as if we were operating the store in a Jewish neighborhood – we had Hanukkah candles at the appropriate time of year, challahs on Friday, charity boxes in every store.
We also operated a strictly kosher establishment. We were the largest kosher retailer in the Untied States when we sold the business. That was an added level of complexity. But it not only captured a very loyal kosher community, it also added to the authenticity.
Although I first encountered Noah’s before they were sold (which ended many of these practices), I don’t recall noticing this level of authenticity. Perhaps it’s eroded so far that my early memories have been wiped out. But this discussion of authenticity and Jewish deli on the west coast reminds me of my first encounters in the mid-90s with Portland, OR-based Kornblatt’s. The PDXers I met seemed to cherish Kornblatt’s as a local treasure and I’m sure any criticism here will upset them to no end. My apologies, but Kornblatt’s always struck me as a place for people that hadn’t ever been to New York, liked it that way, but wanted some element of what people supposedly ate over thar. The place evoked what you might call checklist-authenticity: bagels (check), celery tonic (check), New York street signs (check), soft-spoken-shrugging-Jackie-Mason-meets-Ben-meets-Jerry-meets-Jerry-Garcia-proprietor (wha????).
While Noah’s decor is the same cartoonish parody of what New York’s Lower East Side, at least Alper had a sense of how to go beyond that. And ultimately, what it took to export New York deli authenticity to the Bay Area is completely different what it took to expoert New York deli authenticity to Portland. Different markets, different culture, different context, different definition of authenticity.
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