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Trio’s Working On Reopening After Tornado

4 min read

“10.” I had just asked Capi Peck to rate the scariness, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the scariest, of the March 31 tornado.

Peck co-owns Trio’s Restaurant, which resides in the Pavilion in the Park retail center at 8201 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. The tornado heavily damaged the center and shuttered Peck’s business. When we talked on Tuesday, she was hoping to have a timeline for reopening by the end of last week. “The uncertainty is starting to drive me a little bit crazy,” Peck said.

When the tornado alert went out that Friday afternoon, only 14 diners remained in the restaurant, along with 10 to 11 staff members. Peck, Stephanie Caruthers, managing partner at Trio’s, and Brent Peterson, co-owner, ushered everyone into the kitchen. 

“And then we piled into our two big walk-in coolers because I could not get that image of the Rolling Fork, Mississippi, tornado a few weeks earlier, that big picture of the big pile of debris and the walk-in sitting on top of it, and the employees were in the walk-in. I took that as a good sign that that’s where we needed to be, so that’s where we went,” Peck said. The eight people who sheltered inside the walk-in refrigerator at Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork survived that March 24 twister unharmed, while the restaurant itself was destroyed.

The March 31 tornado that hit Little Rock blew the front doors of Trio’s off their hinges and blew in debris, but the restaurant, including its James Hayes glass chandelier, sustained no interior damage, Peck said. Staff and customer cars parked outside the restaurant were destroyed, as well as Trio’s’ two vans, but insurance is covering those losses.

The restaurant was preparing for a busy weekend on the Friday that was the last day of March and had just received some “major deliveries,” she said. Peck called Potluck Food Rescue, and on the Saturday after the tornado “we just packed everything up for Potluck and they ended up distributing about 3,000 pounds of Trio’s food.” She expects insurance will cover that $13,000 hit.

Business interruption insurance, which pays for inventory and a percentage of sales, has allowed the restaurant to make payroll for its 48 employees since the tornado, and customers have helped out by buying gift certificates — more than $15,000 worth so far.

But the 82,000-SF mixed-use Pavilion in the Park property sustained major roof damage, forcing its closure while repairs are underway.

For Trio’s, the main uncertainty now is the condition of the five air handlers on the roof that provide heating and air conditioning to the restaurant. Trio’s owns those and is responsible for them. Visual inspections indicate the units are intact, but Trio’s can’t test them because Metro Disaster Specialists in North Little Rock had to cut their wires after the tornado.

If the units can be rewired, and once the building is cleared for occupancy, Trio’s can open fairly quickly. But if new HVAC units have to be ordered, supply chain issues could delay their replacement by months.

Peck, however, is “pretty optimistic” that at least half of them will work. “That’s going to be sort of key,” she said.

Trio’s owners considered relocating to another space but have for now decided to wait on repairs. “If it was going to be four to six months, we would have relocated by now,” she said. “We’ve looked all over the city. We decided not to do that because we feel like it’s going to be a matter of weeks not a matter of months” until the restaurant can reopen at Pavilion in the Park.

During the first couple of weeks after the tornado, Peck’s work as a Little Rock city director took precedence over her career as a restaurateur, she said. “I was so preoccupied with the city because my area, Ward 4, got slammed.”

May is traditionally Trio’s second-busiest month, after December, and, of course, it’s the season for the restaurant’s famed strawberry shortcake. Peck said Trio’s is considering borrowing a food truck to bring strawberry shortcake to the public. “We’re going to try to make it work because people are going crazy missing strawberry shortcake.”

As far as lessons learned, Peck said business interruption insurance is vital, along with keeping the restaurant staff and customers informed. “This is so beyond our control,” she said. “I’m incredibly thankful that nobody was hurt. It could have been so much worse.”

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