Irving Diamant, longtime owner of U. City deli, dies at 79

Irving and Kay Diamant in front of their store in 2011.

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

Irving Diamant, who with his wife, Kay, owned and operated Diamant’s Kosher Meat Market in University City for more than half a century, died Wednesday, Aug. 17. He was 79 and a longtime resident of the St. Louis area, most recently of Town & Country. 

Mr. Diamant was born in Poland on April 19, 1937, the son of Wolf and Regina Gitter Diamant. He came to America with his family in 1949. He recalled having celebrated his bar mitzvah in both Poland and the United States. The family initially settled in Alton but later moved to University City, where Mr. Diamant met and married his life and business partner, Kay Lasky. The two married soon after Kay graduated from University City High School. 

At the time of their marriage, Mr. Diamant was in the  Marines and had just finished boot camp. Kay joined him at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was stationed. Two years later, the couple moved back to St. Louis. They were  married for nearly 60 years and had three children and six grandchildren. 

In the 1950s, Mr. Diamant joined his father, Wolf Diamant, and his father’s partner Simon Kohn at Diamant’s in University City. The shop was located at 618 North and South Road or right next door until it closed in 2011. 

At the time, the St. Louis area had about 40 kosher markets  under the supervision of Vaad Hoeir, which ensures that they are operated in strict accordance with the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. 

In 1963, Kohn left Diamant’s to set up with his wife, Bobbi, Kohn’s Kosher Deli and Market, now run by their children Lenny and Rosemary. 

Mr. Diamant was loved by many of his loyal customers at his popular U. City establishment. Not only was he the always smiling and upbeat proprietor of one of the last two kosher meat markets and delicatessens in the St. Louis area (with Kohn’s), but he was especially attentive to the needs of those who patronized his store. 

“Everyone knows Irv has a big heart,” Dallas Powell, a member of the Diamant family who worked at the store for decades, told the Jewish Light in 2011 when Mr. Diamant retired. “Nothing gives him more pleasure than helping people.”

The Diamants treated their customers like members of their extended family. Longtime employee Pnina Glassman, who worked behind the counter for many years, fondly recalled in the 2011 story that Mr. Diamant observed a “ritual” of presenting three baskets of candy to children, telling them to take one treat from each, sometimes to their mothers’  chagrin.  

“Irv always has to stop what he is doing to talk to the children,” Glassman told the Jewish Light. “And for the babies too young for candy, he gives them pretzels. Someone always gets something.” 

Glassman said that at the time, Mr. Diamant had no fixed prices. 

“If someone cannot afford (the price), the charge is minimal,” she said. “I’ve seen Irv put a bag of food on one of the tables for a single mother so she could come in and just take it. He didn’t want to embarrass her in any way.” 

The deli was beloved by customers of all ages. A week before it closed, all 31 girls at the nearby Esther Miller Bais Yaakov High School walked over with thank-you notes. Many of the students at the time recalled getting their first piece of candy at the deli and of having enjoyed their “little talks” with Kay Diamant. 

One of the thank-you notes said it all: “Your store will be missed, but your kindness will last forever.”

Graveside services for Mr. Diamant, who was a member of Traditional Congregation, were held at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on White Road, where Rabbi Zalman Stein officiated. 

Survivors include his wife, Kay Lasky Diamant; son Mike Diamant (Judi); daughters Shelly Diamant Grossman (the late Roger) and Raye Diamant Katz (Michael); and six grandchildren. 

Memorial contributions preferred to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, 63146, or the Barbara Mendelson Tomchei Shabbos Fund, 7 Highgate Road, St. Louis, 63132.