Leelanau community aids chef’s cancer fight
Lake Leelanau — Most know Bryon Figueroa for his signature breakfast burritos, grass-fed burgers and fresh-squeezed orange juice, all served out of the namesake Fig’s Breakfast & Lunch kitchen.
But more often than not these days, the locals-favorite eggs-and-bacon joint’s sign reads “closed.”
The chef and father of four’s days start early with restaurant prep and serving up plates for breakfast and lunch rushes. Then he hits the gym with oldest daughter Payge or rounds up the rest of the crew — Anna, 11, Lucee, 6, and 3-month-old Reed — for family time. Figueroa takes pride in having the energy to do it all.
Until he couldn’t.
It was early January and the chef faltered while butchering a pig at the Lake Leelanau Fig’s. He struggled to finish, and started to wonder if a particularly intense gym session with Payge had caused a hernia.
“I said, ‘Man, something’s wrong with me,’ ” Figueroa said.
Concern took him the 20 miles to Munson Medical Center’s emergency room, and it turned to fear when doctors didn’t share his theory.
A CT scan revealed masses in both of Figueroa’s kidneys.
The diagnosis came several agonizing weeks later, near the end of February.
Bilateral kidney cancer.
The family considered keeping the news to themselves — spring break season offered an easy cover for limited hours in the wake of doctor-encouraged rest for Fig’s’ head, and only, chef.
“But I don’t have a rotating clientele — the same three guys have breakfast here every day,” Figueroa said. “They’re going to want to know where we’re at.”
The darkened restaurant took its toll on the family’s budget, and as much as the diagnosis loomed, Figueroa worried, too, that the illness would be the end of his dream restaurant.
Regulars couldn’t let that happen.
Leelanau locals banded together, filling Fig’s’ tables when the sign reads “open” — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and pooling every extra cent to keep the family afloat.
Help came from all corners. Corinn Kowalski, Lucee’s former kindergarten teacher at Leland Public School, started a GoFundMe for the family with fellow teacher Shannon Scott.
They raised more than $11,600 in two weeks and are more than halfway to their goal on the Fig’s Fight page.
“It’s the easiest way for many people to be able to reach out and help,” Kowalski said. “We’ll just keep sharing and spreading the word.”