Under New Ownership, Kohn's Cements Its Legacy

The iconic kosher deli and restaurant will live on thanks to its new owners

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click to enlarge An exterior shot of Kohn's Kosher Meat & Deli Restaurant.
Courtesy of AJ Moll
Kohn's will live on thanks to its three new owners.

Like anyone who regularly patronized the iconic Kohn's Kosher Meat & Deli Restaurant (10405 Old Olive Street Road, Creve Coeur; 314-569-0727), AJ Moll had known for years that the Kohn family was looking to sell. Though their desire was never officially made public, Lenny Kohn and his sister, Rosemary Cooper, let it be known throughout St. Louis' Jewish community that they were looking for change, a desire that became even more explicit when they put the business up for sale this past March.

Now, Moll is a minority partner in a three-way partnership that will ensure that Kohn's continues serving guests well into the future. Though he admits he never thought he'd be the person to help shepherd the beloved brand into the future, the veteran chef can't think of anyone better positioned to do so.

"I spent 15 years in retail grocery, starting as a bagger at Schnucks and working my way up to their deli department and being part of their store opening team," Moll says. "It gave me a baseline in the business, so I can't think of anyone else in St. Louis that has a better base of knowledge to do this."

A longtime culinarian who spent the last 10 years as chef at Saul Mirowitz Community School, Moll got his start in the business via combat training in the United States Army. Though he had originally signed up to be a combat engineer, Moll says he was terrible at it and graduated at the bottom of his class. He recognized it wasn't his calling, so he kept volunteering for cooking duty; eventually, his superiors recognized he had a knack for the field and sent him to culinary school.

After leaving active duty, Moll returned to Schnucks (he got his start with the grocery chain while in high school) and worked his way up to a corporate trainer position before leaving the company to work as a corporate chef for Mastercard. From there, he landed at Mirowitz, where he worked for roughly a decade until the Kohn's opportunity came his way.

"A couple of local businessmen came to me in April," Moll says. "They are both Jewish and did not want to see an institution go away, so they said we should do this. They both have really strong business backgrounds, so this is going to work out for the best."

According to Moll, he had been tossing around the idea of buying Kohn's on his own prior to his partners' offer, but it was not a financially viable decision for him and his family. Once the two silent partners came on the scene, he was able to get involved without assuming all of the risk on his own. He believe it's a win-win for him, for the partners and, most importantly, for Kohn's longtime customers who were terrified at the thought of losing the last remaining kosher restaurant in St. Louis.

"Everyone was nervous that it was going to close," Moll says. "I am a humble person, so I don't necessarily believe this, but someone even told me I'm their savior. I'm a humble person, so I don't know about that."

Moll, who will serve as the general manager and face of the operation, has big plans in store for Kohn's, though he emphasizes they will take time. He says that for the first six months, he does not anticipate making any changes, at least none that his customers will see. He points to a lot of deferred maintenance — a $10,000 water heater, for instance — that needs to be addressed before he can make more visible changes. However, eventually, he and his partners plan to reinvest the profits from the shop and restaurant back into the business in the form of renovations and expanded hours.

"Back when this opened, it was at 1960s business model where Mom stayed home and could shop during weekday hours," Moll says. "Now, we're all two-income households, so we want to expand our hours so that we are open when people need to shop."

Moll also hopes to begin opening the restaurant for dinnertime hours, pointing to a dearth of kosher eateries that are open in the evenings. However, he emphasizes that these things will take time — which is OK as he and his partners are in this for the long haul.

It's great; it's exciting; it's a little nerve-racking. Basically, it's a roller coaster of emotions," Moll says.

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About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the dining editor and restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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