As one local businessman put it, Garden Grove has lost an icon. Leo Zlaket, husband, father, grandfather, businessman, and community leader ended his battle with cancer early Tuesday morning.
Zlaket, 77, was owner and operator of the historic Garden Grove business Zlaket’s Market. The market was the oldest family owned business in Orange County, in business for 87 years.
He was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1941 to Leo and Mary Zlaket. As the youngest of three children, Leo grew up in the apartment above the store. Customers referred to him as “Poncho” as they rubbed his full head of curly locks. He attended Blessed Sacrament grade school, Mater Dei High School, Fullerton College and was an altar boy at St. Columban’s Church until he was 18. Lifelong friends often joked, they felt bad for Leo as a kid. As they were “goofing off” or going to movies at the Gem Theater, Leo was working in the store. They would also say he had the last laugh, as the fruits of his labor were bountiful.
Leo served in the Army National Guard from 1963 to 1969. He would say his greatest military accomplishment was serving in the “War of Watts” with no bullets.
In 1966, Leo met the love of his life, Virginia Roman. Virginia was visiting California from Pittsburgh and met Leo through relatives. Those relatives were longtime Zlaket’s Market customers and friends. It was a match made in heaven … or at least a match made in Mary’s kitchen. As their affection for each other grew, Virginia made the choice to remain in California.
They married in 1967 and began their extraordinary 51-year love affair.
Leo and Virginia were inseparable. As newlyweds, they lived above the store, steps away from his mom and dad and the family… Think “My Big Fat Lebanese Wedding.”
Leo, along with his older brother George and George’s children worked in the market, while George’s wife Bobbie ran a children’s clothing store next door. It was all family, all the time! Leo and Virginia had their son David in 1971 and two years later moved to Anaheim, two miles from the store.
Zlaket’s Market provided a wonderful life for their family, as the Zlaket’s provided wonderful service to the community. Many kids would claim to have their first job at Zlaket’s Market. George and Leo were butchers, known for providing the finest quality meats. When George retired in 1988, Leo and Virginia bought the partnership and carried on the legacy for decades more. They expanded the deli, grew their catering services, and brought gourmet fare to Garden Groven, often traveling to New York and San Francisco for trade shows and inspiration,
Leo and Virginia were trend-setters. One of Leo’s greatest strengths was his ability to adapt and change to fulfill his customer’s needs. He wasn’t just selling his products but offering his expertise. So many would say they would enter the store not knowing what they wanted for dinner. Leo would direct them, finding the perfect cut, preparing and seasoning it, and writing cooking directions on the package.
Over the counter, you would get great conversation. Leo loved a good story, both listening and telling. Customers loved his smile as much as his sense of humor.
He loved baseball and was a life-long Pittsburgh Pirates fan. As a youth, he attended games of the Pirates farm club the Hollywood Stars from the Pacific Coast League. Marrying Virginia from Pittsburgh sealed the deal.
Leo’s volunteerism reached many organizations. He was a quiet leader, never looking for accolades, but always willing to help. He served as Chairman of the Board for the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce, Associate Board Member for Acacia Adult Day Care, Advisory Board Member for Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove, Finance Director for St. Columban’s Church and Main Street Parking Commissioner.
Leo was a man who never said no to those in need of assistance. His fundraising gifts were wide spread and supported a multitude of service clubs, children’s organizations, community foundations and churches. Whether it was through financial contributions or personally preparing food for events, Leo led through his actions.
Leo would say his greatest accomplishment was his family. His love and devotion to them was immeasurable. His son David felt blessed to work side by side with his dad for over 20 years.
He is survived by his wife Virginia, son David, daughter-in-law Tina, grandkids Gabi and Roman, and sister Yvonne.
Memorial services will be held Monday morning at St. Columban’s Catholic Church in Garden Grove. The rosary will be at 10 a.m. followed by a funeral mass at 10:30 a.m. There will be a reception at the Community Meeting Center, 11300 Stanford Ave. at 11:30 a.m.
Categories: Garden Grove