Rough in the Diamond

If you are a regular at Diamond Bakery on Fairfax, counterwoman Gloria Kalili will greet you with a quick appraisal of your needs, not wants. “Mameleh,” she’ll say, “you’ll have a corn rye.” Should you stutter, “I’m thinking,” Gloria will repeat herself, pronouncing her words with the sharp accent and unyielding emphasis of an Israeli Defense Forces major. But then she’ll soften, adding, “Mameleh, it’s still warm.” The bread is in a plastic bag before you can reply.

You can ask Gloria for recommendations — she has worked this counter for 17 years — but, after she runs down the list of goodies from rugelach to extra-rich challah, she’ll say, with mild exasperation, “It’s all good.” A friend once asked, “Which do you like better, the chocolate babka or the apple ring cake?” Gloria’s unabashed answer: “Look at me. I like it all!”

Kalili, who was born in Basra, Iraq, and as a young girl was part of the 80,000-strong Jewish exodus to Israel in the mid-’50s, works her daily 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift with the tough, good nature of a matriarch presiding over her kitchen. She is in command and, without ever being mean, keeps everyone in place. A man, on his way home to New York, stopped in to buy a chunk of raisin pumpernickel. “Can you double wrap it?” he asks.

“I’m going to put it in a Diamond Bakery bag so they will know where you got it,” Gloria tells him.

“I know — L.A.,” he says.

“No, not L.A. Diamond Bakery.”

Accreditation clarified with a sly note in her voice, Gloria says, cheerily, “I like it here. I like my job.” It really is that simple.

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