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Enjoying retirement at 90, Marlene Leitson reflects on her legacy

Posted February 10, 2023 in Articles


Known for her more than 65-year career in catering and restaurant management, Marlene Leitson will celebrate her 90th birthday Feb. 16 with her family and friends.

“I’m thankful that I lived to 90 years old and I enjoyed everything I did,” Leitson told the Cleveland Jewish News.

Enjoying retirement at 90, Marlene Leitson reflects on her legacy

Bob and Marlene Leitson at their restaurant, Jayson’s Steak House, on Washington and Lee roads in Cleveland Heights.

Born and raised in Shaker Heights, she attended Shaker Heights High School before venturing to Florida to study business at the University of Miami. She entered the restaurant business with her late husband, Robert, who opened Jayson’s Steak House in 1949 in Cleveland Heights.

By 1972, the family moved to Beachwood with a second restaurant, Jayson’s Front Page, which remained open for over 30 years while they took on other new projects such as opening Cafe 56, once in Beachwood, which is now 56 Kitchen, in Mayfield Heights with her son, Jay Leitson, and the popular Pewter Mug.

She said she often jokes that her husband promised her that she’d never work a day in her life, but after they got married, she never had a day off. A caterer, Leitson built a name for herself booking and working parties, often for local synagogues, including Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, of which she is a member.

When she stopped working a couple years ago, her son kept the catering business alive and well. She resides at Wiggins Place on the Menorah Park campus in Beachwood.

Leitson said what she enjoyed most about working in the restaurant business was “meeting the people, getting to know different people, working with the employees. ... That was my main thing, working with them every day.”

After a long and fruitful career, now she can find time to relax and read magazines, she said. That is, when she is not calling her son to check on the business.

“I definitely learned my work ethic from my mom,” Jay Leitson told the CJN.

In addition to co-owning 56 Kitchen in Mayfield Heights and a second location in Solon, Jay Leitson and his business partner Izzy Schachner co-own and operate Elle Restaurant & Lounge and Birdigo, both in Solon. They have additional partners in Birdigo, the CJN previously reported.

“The restaurant Elle ... was pretty much inspired by all the women who are inspirational in our lives,” Jay Leitson said. “And so she (mom) was one of the women that are of inspiration.”

Hanging in the restaurant to remind him of that inspiration is an art piece created by Zach Slavin from a portrait of Marlene Leitson when she was a runner-up in the Miss Miami pageant.

Enjoying retirement at 90, Marlene Leitson reflects on her legacy

An artistic portrait of Marlene Leitson hanging in Elle Restaurant & Lounge in Solon created by Zach Slavin.

“If you had to go the world over, you couldn’t find a better son and daughter than me,” Marlene Leitson said of her children, Jay Leitson and Laura Nutis.

After her husband’s death, Marlene Leitson was remarried to Aaron Walter until he died in 2021. Walter had three children. Marlene Leitson has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Over the years, she has been closely involved with the Jewish community, certainly as a caterer, but also through involvement at her synagogue and by sponsoring Jewish Book Month and the Robert Leitson Memorial Lecture at Park Synagogue.

“Being involved in different people’s simchas – the weddings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs – she really developed a closeness with the community,” Nutis told the CJN. “And people in the community which was something that was important to her.”

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