Richard Perl ’79: Saving the World, One Bonbon at a Time
Richard Perl ’79 proudly displays some of the
goodies available at Chocolat Michel Cluizel in NYC’s ABC
Carpet & Home.
PHOTO: TODD PLITT
Can saving the world and sharing the joys of high-quality chocolate
go hand in hand?
According to Richard Perl ’79, ’84L, ’84
Business, they can. Perl, a green-minded business consultant and social activist
who is CEO of Chocolat Michel Cluizel in America, has found a way to reconcile
these seemingly incongruous initiatives.
Born in Short Hills, N.J., to an entrepreneur father and housewife
mother, Perl majored in history at the College. One class, “Approaches
to World Order,” taught by visiting professor and Wallach Chair
for Peace and World Order Studies Saul Mendlovitz, changed his life. The
lesson Perl remembers Mendlovitz emphasizing is that “interrelated
global problems require comprehensive global solutions.”
Inspired, Perl spent two years following graduation working at Mendlovitz’s
Institute for World Order. He also created a project that promoted global
education at undergraduate campuses across the country (Ira Wallach ’29
was a major funder). Perl, who always had wanted to work in business,
remembers feeling that “the business world needed to emphasize social
responsibility and that people should be more businesslike in how they
Entering the Law and Business schools with a business card that read “Peace
Entrepreneur,” Perl delved into his studies — and high-end
chocolate. As he soon learned, chocolate helped to supply him with the
focus and energy he needed to complete both programs in three years while
working in the nonprofit sector.
During graduate school, Perl co-founded the Threshold Foundation, an
international community of wealthy people committed to world betterment.
He remembers, “I would get up at 4 a.m. and study, fueled by chocolate.
When dragging through tax class, I would pull out the darkest chocolate
I could get, and then be smiling and focused. After classes, when most
students went to the library to study, I would get on the phones and make
calls and oversee my staff members.”
After graduating, Perl worked in a variety of business and nonprofit
ventures. He founded Pacific Partners International Investments, representing
high net-worth Japanese investors, principally in innovative, environmentally
friendly real estate developments. Ever the activist, Perl also became
one of the founders of Social Venture Network, a nonprofit association
of business owners, investors and nonprofit leaders devoted to forging
a just and sustainable world through business. Later, he served as the
CEO for holistic health guru Deepak Chopra’s company and advised
other companies, including Econergy (which develops clean energy), on
business and legal strategy.
Meanwhile, Perl continued to expand his knowledge of chocolate, trying — and
falling in love with — Michel Cluizel chocolate. After visiting
the Chocolat Michel Cluizel store in Paris, Perl established a wholesale
account “for my own needs,” and began handing out the goods
at business meetings. “Some people would hand out a business card;
I would hand out a card and a little gift,” he jokes.
Noticing that most high-end chocolate stores were “sterile” and
didn’t capture the sensual, pleasurable essence of chocolate, Perl
began formulating ideas for his own chocolate shop, centered on the Michel
Cluizel brand. After negotiating business transactions for Manhattan’s
earthy, high-end department store, ABC Carpet & Home, Perl suggested
that the owner add a Michel Cluizel chocolate shop. When Perl shared the
idea with Cluizel himself, the French chocolate-maker “looked in
my eyes and said, ‘I will do this, but only if you are my partner.’ It
felt like it was impossible to say ‘no.’
“Opening a chocolate store didn’t seem in tune with my
mission,” Perl continues, “but in life, you have to follow
your destiny — and I know that chocolate is part of my destiny.
Generally, I’m not interested if there isn’t a world-betterment
element, but chocolate may be the one exception to that. It definitely
makes people happy. It might be a stretch to say that if more people ate
great chocolate, the world would be a better place. But, I truly believe
Perl calls the resulting boutique, which opened in November 2005, a “revolution
in chocolate retail.” According to this chocolate-obsessed entrepreneur,
his is the first high-end chocolate store in New York with a liquor license — the
store sells spirit-filled bonbons, offers “choctails” (cocktails
featuring chocolate) and pairs chocolates with various liquors and wines.
Presenting an immersive chocolate experience, the boutique also offers
desserts, guided chocolate tastings, packages of complete indulgence (“all
you can eat” for $75), and a chocolate-of-the-month club.
To integrate his social consciousness into this venture, Perl donates
chocolate to charities, hosts events for nonprofits and is extending a
10 percent discount to all college students (and, even better, a 15 percent
discount to the Columbia University community, including students, faculty,
staff and alumni).
Perl, who is married with two children, must be predicting that other
college students will follow in his chocolate-addicted footsteps. Surely,
chocolate is a tasty way to get through a heavy courseload.
Chocolat Michel Cluizel at ABC Carpet & Home is located at 888 Broadway at 19th Street; 212-477-7335
Dina Cheney ’99 is the author of Tasting Club (DK Publishing), a freelance writer and a chocolate tasting host.
Visit her on the Web at www.dinacheney.com.