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Gary Kroeger is shown in his new restaurant, Figaro Figaro, in the 400 block of the Main Street Parkade in Cedar Falls.

CEDAR FALLS — It began in December 2017 with a song.

It ended a week ago with a whisper — and, perhaps, a promise to one day return.

Nonetheless, Figaro Figaro — an Italian-concept restaurant that featured singing waitstaff and fine dining fare — wilted under the pressures of the restaurant business and closed June 29, said owner Gary Kroeger.

“I’m numb, and I’m brokenhearted,” Kroeger said Monday morning, after posting the news publicly on Facebook. “In the restaurant business, you run as long as you can, but when you don’t have operating expenses, you’re done immediately.”

After informing staff and closing, Kroeger said he and his wife, Shannon, didn’t tell people right away.

“I was holding back from saying anything because I didn’t know what to say,” Kroeger said. “But people were going, ‘Hey, I went by and you were closed.’ I felt a responsibility to the community to not ghost.”

Kroeger said he was inspired to try the concept after visiting a family-style restaurant in Italy, where — the story goes on Figaro Figaro’s website — he and fellow diners “laughed, sang and shared amazing stories all evening.

“That experience is what ‘Figaro Figaro’ is all about,” the website says. “Tonight, this table is yours. Eat, drink, be merry, and who knows ... maybe we’ll break out in song.”

Singing waitstaff, some of whom were classically trained, worked the tables inside the Main Street restaurant, breaking out into song for birthdays or just randomly serenading couples and families during a meal. Kroeger was often spotted seated at a table in the dining room, singing or having conversations with diners.

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“We really created something that was very different and very special,” Kroeger said. “It was not like a restaurant — it was an evening entertainment event.”

The concept didn’t need to be in as big of a building as the one he leased from Tony Tomlyanovich, Kroeger said, but he quickly thought of ways he could make the extra space work: Upstairs, live jazz musicians played for a bar crowd in Figaro After Dark, with the music wafting to the dining room below.

“Long story short, all of that is very expensive,” he said.

After a harsh winter, Kroeger said it was “touch and go” from mid-March through May, when he said he made the mistake of cutting the restaurant’s hours to just weekends in the summer.

“It didn’t work. We ended up having just as high expenses and less income ... and then property taxes went up, the cost of utilities went up,” he said. “I looked at the situation and just had to say, ‘I can’t take the risk anymore.’”

His Facebook post Sunday night said Figaro Figaro was part of his “scrapbook of memories” and teased fans to “stay tuned for greater things to come.” He confirmed Monday he didn’t want to give up on the restaurant business.

“I would like to see an incarnation of Figaro Figaro happen again,” Kroeger said Monday. “I loved every second of this. ... It was the most rewarding experience — outside of having kids — in my life, and I want to recreate that in some way in some part of the community in the next year.”

Regardless, it’s something he’ll remember for its uniqueness.

“When we would have a full house, and maybe one of my servers was singing because — and this would happen often — because a family came in to celebrate their grandmother’s 90th birthday, and they were having fun and laughing and the whole restaurant would enjoy that experience, I would turn to my wife and say, ‘This is what I hoped it would be.’”

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Staff Writer

Staff writer at The Courier 2005 (college intern), 2007-2012, 2015-present. Graduate of UNI 2006. Three-time Iowa APME award winner (investigative reporting 2008, lifestyle feature 2016, business feature 2018)

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