Trio’s Restaurant in Little Rock has marked nearly 30 years in the food business, producing solid dishes and creating loyal fans. You don’t get that far without great leadership and a certain attention to details.
Like every eatery, Trio’s had to start somewhere. Owner Capi Peck looks back to ’86 and remembers the local scene. “There was a handful of outstanding restaurants, many being the offspring of Jacques and Suzanne’s. But there wasn’t a lot of diversity as far as different ethnic cuisines, and local palates were not nearly as adventurous as they are now.”
That year, Trio’s started business, largely operating as a seller of kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, and sandwiches to-go. However, Peck saw that there was a need to change tactics and began experimenting with the menu. “Our draw was our food with a constantly changing and eclectic menu … from all over the globe.” Although these were things she and her partners learned from trail and error, there was more at play.
Peck’s palate had traveled the world by the time she was 16 – thanks to growing up in and around her grandfather’s business – The Hotel Sam Peck. “My grandfather and father both had amazing and curious palates. They traveled a lot and brought back ideas they re-created in the kitchen at the hotel,” she remembers. She also discovered a love for Mexican cuisine when she traveled there one summer as well as during her college years.
Peck still follows her grandfather’s model for eclectic food, as well as managing her staff. Currently the eatery has second and third generation workers that have been with Trio’s since the beginning. That’s not a regularity in the food industry.
She says, “I learned early on that if I treated my staff with respect and compassion […] if I treated them like family, I would be rewarded.”
Peck is passionate about her work on all levels, but she takes extra pride in selecting ingredients. She has a well-thought-out philosophy on the subject: “My culinary philosophy has always been very simple – buy the very best ingredients available, source locally whenever possible, don’t fuss with things too much, change the menu often to reflect the seasons, and never stop being creative.”
Take, for instance, the tomato, a necessary ingredient in a multitude of Trio’s dishes. Peck says, “Everything tastes so much better when it is grown in our local soil. There is a huge difference between something like a tomato grown hundreds of miles from here and picked too early for travel, than an Arkansas tomato, vine ripened, plucked at the perfect time and never refrigerated.”
She also believes buying locally affects more than flavor. She says, “[It’s] a way Trio’s can give back to the community that has supported us for almost 29 years. I base my menu around what I can source locally.”
This is something Peck has done for a while now, and she is glad to see the growth in local farmers. She says, “The variety and quality of local produce has grown exponentially … Where before I purchased from two or three growers, I now purchase from ten or so.”
If you’ve ever wondered about where Trio’s gets their produce, think variety. From tomatoes and strawberries to greens and eggplants, Peck has more than one farmer she can call. The list of regulars includes: Arkansas Natural Produce, Barnhill Orchards, Alan Leveritt’s Farm, Tanner Farms, Carpenter Farms, Sue’s Garden, Hall Family Farms, Cadron Crest Orchards, Natural State Produce, and Moss Mountain Farms. Although, Peck adds, “There are others I stumble upon at the various farmer’s markets.”
Sometimes even breads, cakes and desserts are sourced locally. “As far as producers go, Trio’s is very proud to partner with Dempsey Bakery in Little Rock and offer the best gluten-free bread and crackers available. We also love Kelli Marks at Sweet Love and call on her often for specialty cakes, tea cookies and more. We have outstanding all-from-scratch desserts, but Kelli just does some things better than we do! We also partner with Blue Cake Company for creative special occasion cakes, cupcakes and petit fours.”
She is quick to include H.A.M., as well. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brandon Brown who creates out-of-this-world pates, terrines, duck bacon, rillettes and other ridiculously delicious charcuterie we often serve in the restaurant and especially at catered events.”
Peck’s painstaking attention to ingredients spills over into yet another philosophy, namely, Trio’s is part of the Arkansas Green Restaurant Alliance (AGRA). In the ‘90s she and her restaurant partner, Brent Peterson, knew that a life committed to recycling and living lighter was the route to go. Along with Kathy Webb and others she helped form AGRA to get restaurants get involved.
She says, “AGRA brought awareness to working green at a time when not many folks were doing that here in Little Rock. Scott McGehee and Mark Abernathy blazed the trail along with Kathy Webb.”
Trio’s has found a rhythm, and Peck says she’s proud to be involved with the local foodie scene. She says, “For a city our size, we have an amazingly strong and diverse independent restaurant community. Yes, the big box restaurants win when it comes to numbers, but the independents win when it comes to innovation, local expression, community involvement and creativity.”