CEDAR FALLS — Kroeger’s the name. Food and fun are the game.
And Gary Kroeger, the communications specialist and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member from Cedar Falls, hopes to create a happy marriage of both with his new restaurant, Figaro Figaro, in the 400 block of the Main Street Parkade, in a portion of the former MyVerona space near Tony’s Pizzeria.
He hopes to open for business in the space, also formerly the Primo bar and restaurant, on Dec. 1. About 30 people will work in the establishment, and he wants to create a dining experience like the one he had with a restaurant he operated in Los Angeles prior to returning to Cedar Falls.
It will include a 20-table sit-down dining area; a Café Figaro counter for the lunch business crowd or those browsing Parkade shops during the day; an after-hours upper-level jazz club he’s calling Figaro After Dark and a special-events party room in a revamped downstairs wine cellar.
He’ll retain the blue-lit bar from the predecessor Primo establishment, and he said it’s practically in “turnkey” condition with little renovation required. He’s leasing the space from Tony Tomlyanovich of Tony’s Pizza next door.
“Our concept is going to be fine dining that’s fun,” Kroeger said. “Our servers are going to be encouraged to display their personality. Customer service is going to be our focus, and then some. But we want our servers to have fun with the family or fun with the couple. Not in an intrusive way, but in a jovial way.”
He came up with the concept during a visit to Italy years ago on a filmmaking trip when he was seated with a Swedish family. “They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Swedish. But we all could sing songs. … It was the best evening of dinner I’ve ever had. And the place was busy with activity. And I always thought I would be able to take that Italian-European experience, not just the menu,” and bring it to a restaurant in the U.S.
“This table is yours tonight. You’re going to have fun. You’re going to have great food, great service,” and maybe a server will break into song. “Because we do have young people from the University of Northern Iowa that we’re hiring, and they happen to sing.”
It will feature a menu that’s varied but “familiar to this community,” Kroeger said, with steak, homemade pasta, veal, chicken and fish with specials.
While his Los Angeles establishment was a “quaint little tablecloth place,” with the Cedar Falls operation, “I want to turn this into the place to go for a fast lunch; dinnertime to get great service, great food and have fun; after hours, great jazz.
“I want to pull the business crowd by their lapels in here at 5 o’clock for happy hour at our bar,” he said, with “the two best private-party spaces in town; there’s a dance floor; anything’s possible.”
“We’re gonna have I think a neat dining option down here,” among Figaro Figaro and a variety of eating and drinking establishments.
“It’s good for everyone to have more down here,” Kroeger said.
“I love the business,” Kroeger said of restaurant work. “And it’s hard. Probably more variable in food service than any other business on planet Earth.
Why would someone go into it? Because it’s fun, challenging. For me personally, the idea of giving every person that came in the best possible experience we can is exciting. It’s like having a party every night. And I feel like these are guests coming into my house and I want them to feel like they’re at a place where they’re going to have fun. For me it is simply fun to invite people into a space and do everything we can to give them an experience where they’ll walk out going, ‘Hey. Can’t wait to come back.’
“And I will sing at tables,” Kroeger said.
Asked if he’d lord it over Figaro after Dark with a smoker jacket and pipe a la Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner in his “Playboy After Dark” 1960s late-night television show, Kroeger said, “You’re the second person that’s asked me that. I haven’t ruled anything out.”