Simon Kohn, 88; founder of iconic kosher deli, restaurant

Simon and Bobbie Kohn, in a 1986 file photograph, are pictured at the kishka-making (stuffed derma) machine at their fabled restaurant and deli, which was marking its 10th anniversary at its  current location at the time.  Light File Photo: Mark Richman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Simon Kohn, founder of the iconic Simon Kohn’s Kosher Restaurant and Deli, currently at 10405 Old Olive Street Road, died Tuesday, July 2, 2013.  He was 88 and had been in declining health recently, family members said.

Born in Boleslawiec, Poland on May 5, 1925, Mr. Kohn was a Holocaust survivor who was detained in six Nazi death camps before escaping from Auschwitz in 1945, when the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. 

Mr. Kohn’s brother, Yankele Kohn, was killed in 1945 by Polish nationalists. He had been engaged to Bobbie Pollak. Following Jewish tradition, Mr. Kohn married his late brother’s fiancée in 1946. They vowed to start their lives anew. 

According to a story by freelance writer and photographer Mark Richman in the Sept. 10, 1986 edition of the Jewish Light, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Kohn’s Deli, Simon and Bobbie Kohn moved to St. Louis in 1949 with the assistance of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

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Mr. Kohn’s first local job was as a delivery man for Yankel Margul, who owned a store on what was then Easton Avenue (now Martin Luther King Avenue) in the city of St. Louis.  In 1952, Mr. Kohn went into partnership with Wolff Diamond, who owned a meat market at North and South and Delmar in University City. Twelve years later, Mr. Kohn bought out Lou Sorkin, who had a store at 1700 Olive Boulevard.

Mr. Kohn and his family opened their present location in on Feb. 19, 1976 at 10424 Old  Olive Street Road in Creve Coeur.  Their children, Lenny and Rosemary were part of the management team of the deli, which was written up in USA Today as one of the leading kosher delis and “one of the best places to have a nosh,” in the United States.

When asked in 1986 if he planned a 10th anniversary party for the eatery, Simon Kohn said, “I don’t think so, because we really have a party here every day.” 

Indeed, Kohn’s is still a major gathering place for Jewish and non-Jewish customers who enjoy the ambience of a strictly kosher, Vadd Hoeir-approved restaurant and deli. Kohn’s is now the only strictly kosher, Jewish-owned restaurant and deli in Greater St. Louis.  A mashgiach, an official of the Vaad Hoeir to inspect products to assure that they are indeed kosher is on hand “every minute of the day,” Mr. Kohn told the Light on several occasions.

Starting in 1964, Bobbie Kohn began making blintzes, knishes and kreplach from home.  Business became so brisk that the operation was moved to Kohn’s on-site.  Kohn’s was able to produce 200 pounds of stuffed derma, or kishka per day, a very popular delicacy associated with the finest kosher delis in New York City.

In keeping with Jewish values, the Kohns made a practice never to turn away a customer who did not have enough money go pay for lunch. Mr. Kohn said, in a 1986 interview,  “If somebody comes in here hungry and without money, we won’t let them leave empty handed.  The more you give, the more you get back.”

Lenny Kohn and his sister Rosemary Kohn have carried on the traditions and practices, good food and warm atmosphere originated by their parents.  “We are here to stay,” Lenny Kohn said on the occasion of the deli’s 10th anniversary.  “Rosemary and I started working here to take a load off of our folks backs, and we will continue the practices which they started here.”

Survivors include his widow, Bobbie Kohn, and children Eydie Kohn Markow; Rosemary Kohn (the late Bert) Cooper and Lenny (Renee) Kohn, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A graveside funeral was held for Mr. Kohn Wednesday, July 3 at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery in Ladue.

Memorial contributions preferred to Jewish Family & Children’s Service, 10950 Schuetz Road, St. Louis, Mo.  63146; the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63146, or the Barbara Mendelson Tomchei Shabbos, 7737 Stanford Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63130.