Gloria Leon has taken off her Nate ‘n Al’s name tag for the last time.
The all-star server spent more than 41 years waiting tables inside the iconic Beverly Hills deli, and the regulars who came to love her — everyone from studio heads and agency partners to actors and producers — cast her in other roles. To them, Leon was family: a surrogate mom, auntie or grandmother, and, for better or worse, a confidante unafraid to say what she really felt about a recent film or TV show. She easily rattled off names of kids, grandkids and cousins, remembered anniversaries and birthdays, and was often invited to customers’ weddings, premieres, bar mitzvahs and graduations. She even accompanied longtime patron Larry King to the Democratic National Convention and to Utah for charity baseball games.
When the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on Los Angeles last spring, there were rumblings and reports Leon was ready to retire, a decision she made when the deli closed in adherence with L.A. County Department of Public Health directives. A Los Angeles Times story even called her the hottest free agent in town, backed by decades of service to A-list clientele. But she weathered the storm for months, sticking with Nate ‘n Al’s owners — a consortium of power players led by Irving and Shelli Azoff — as they supported her, even dropping off groceries for her on occasion. Despite the blow of the pandemic and issues with the lease, Nate ‘n Al’s eventually reopened, and Leon was there helping take to-go orders. But it was a brief reprise.
A new year marked the next chapter of Leon’s life as she elected to officially retire in conjunction with her 70th birthday (last summer). The milestones inspired the Jan. 18 celebration during a special Quarantunes, the pandemic philanthropic phenomenon created by WME partner Richard Weitz with daughter Demi. Leon has been a faithful viewer and has not missed a single Quarantunes concert as the series has continued over 10 months and raised north of $16 million. She also counts the Weitz family as favorites as they, too, have been Nate ‘n Al’s regulars.
The special event allowed Leon to experience what it was like to have Quarantunes curated in her honor as the participants banded together to raise money as one final tip of sorts — or a “Glo-Fund Me.” It also followed the holidays, traditionally a period of time during which Nate ‘n Al’s regulars would shower servers like Leon with tips to close out the year on a high note.
Organized by Richard Arlook, Jaye and Neal Eigler, Jane and John Mass, Jay Sures, Casey Wasserman, and Demi and Richard Weitz, the event was attended by a slew of power players with guests tuning in from many points on the globe including London, Los Angeles, Australia and Aspen. Leon’s daughter, Megan, joined the Zoom with her own children from Bangkok where she lives. Those logged on included the Azoffs, Jeffrey Katzenberg, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Rev Run, producer Neal Moritz, Activision’s Bobby Kotick, Mindy Weiss, David Katzenberg, Chip Rosenbloom, Bill Gerber, and many others.
There were loving performances and shout-outs from Rev Run, Rick Astley, Peabo Bryson, Jenna Parris, Donny Osmond, Kool and the Gang, comedian Jeff Ross, and a powerhouse vocal performance by Tony Award winner Lena Hall with the apt “Gloria.” Leon even got a sampling of her favorite cartoons courtesy of special messages delivered by Speedy Gonzalez, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (thanks to voice talent Eric Bauza).
UTA co-president Sures delivered a special moment for Leon, surprising her by reading two official proclamations, one from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and one from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Sures said he texted both to make the asks and the answers were instantaneous. “It’s a testament to you and all the people you’ve touched in your life,” Sures said before reading the messages. Newsom praised her compassion, affability and dedication to quality service while Garcetti called her “an angel in the City of Angels.”
Toward the end of the show, Leon ceremoniously removed her “Glo Glo” name tag and officially bid adieu with a nod to her favorite show Schitt’s Creek. “It’s a place that gave me so much joy and happiness in my life. I want to say to all of you, from my favorite show … You are my happy ending.” As for the Quarantunes’ happy ending, Richard Weitz sent Leon off by playing the Cheers theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” followed by Porky Pig offering, “That’s all folks.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.