University Heights names Geraci sisters its Citizens of the Year

Members of the Geraci family with the University Heights 2015 Citizens of the Year Award (from left): Patrick Brown, Greg Spoth, Martha "Marti" Spoth, Bucky Spoth, Frannie Geraci and Maggie Spoth. Not pictured: Toni Leonetti. [photo by Mayor Susan Infeld]

University Heights honored three members of the Geraci family, owners of Geraci’s restaurant on Warrensville Center Road, as the University Heights 2015 Citizens of the Year at the city council meeting on Dec. 21. “Their restaurant has contributed tremendously to the charm of University Heights,” said Mayor Susan K. Infeld. “They are a very warm and generous family.”

“The restaurant will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2016, and it’s really a staple of our community,” noted Infeld.

Michael Geraci and his wife, Frances, opened the restaurant on July 2, 1956. Both worked at the restaurant until they were well into their 80s. Michael died in 2013, at the age of 94, and Frances died on July 26, 2015, at the age of 93.

Their three daughters—Martha Geraci Spoth, Frannie Geraci and Toni Leonetti—who currently run the restaurant, received the award. “All three daughters are continuing in their parents’ footsteps,” Infeld said.

“We’re very honored to receive this award,” said Spoth, who’s 67. “It’s definitely a family business, and our customers are like family. Some of our customers are the fourth generation of their family that have been coming to the restaurant. It’s wonderful to know our customers and follow their lives.”

Throughout its history, Geraci’s has regularly employed students from Heights High, John Carroll University and Beaumont School. “They take those students under their wing and really help them move ahead in their lives,” Infeld said.

Both Toni Leonetti and Frannie Geraci said they thought it was their mother who deserved the award.

“This award really goes to my mom,” Geraci, 61, said. “She did a lot for the community. It’s been the foundation of University Heights for decades. She employed and trained generations and generations of kids. She really believed in this being a family restaurant.”

“This award is very generous,” said Leonetti, 70. “It really goes to my mother. My mom worked so hard for so many years. She would do anything. She never turned anything down. I am so very proud of my parents and all that they did for this community.”

Toni Leonetti is the mother of Will and Michael Leonetti, who own and operate Joey’s Bistro Bar on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.

This is the second time the Geraci family has won the Citizen of the Year award. Michael Geraci, the restaurant’s original owner, won the award back in the 1950s.

The restaurant’s menu features a variety of pizzas and pasta dishes, and includes salads, sandwiches, and chicken, veal and seafood entrees.

Geraci's was featured on the Food Network, and Guy Fieri, host of the network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" program, visited University Heights to check out the restaurant. “Whenever his show airs on the Food Network,” Leonetti said, “more and more people constantly come here.”

Geraci’s is open seven days a week, and opens at 11 a.m. every day. It remains open until 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

James Henke

James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley. He is on the board of FutureHeights, and is the co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee.

Read More on University Heights
Volume 9, Issue 2, Posted 9:38 AM, 01.05.2016