It was almost eight years ago that Adrienne Knight took a chance, made a big commitment and joined the slowly growing list of Market Square restaurants. The years since have seen large numbers come and go and she understands the difficulty of operating on thin margins. Trio Cafe has survived on its reputation for tasty food, quick service and a casual atmosphere – all for a price that won’t break the bank.
Urban Woman and I didn’t live downtown when she opened in 2007, but we must have discovered the restaurant early. By September 2009 we’d been there several times, but on Labor Day that month we had breakfast in the restaurant and went for a walk around the city, daydreaming about where we’d like to live one day. As fate would have it we discovered the place for us and it was for sale. Weeks later we’d sold our west Knoxville home and moved into our urban home. Owner/Manager Adrienne Knight told me she’s heard similar stories of special memories tied to the restaurant and she loves for her restaurant to be a part of important moments in people’s lives.
At seven years old (she compared it to the seven-year-itch in a marriage), she felt the restaurant needed updating to take it into the next seven years as a modern, appealing restaurant. In a sense, the previous set-up was an odd arrangement. I’ve watched more than one person walk in over the years and not quite know what to do. Salad to the left, a counter to the right and a corridor leading to the back often gave people pause. It’s much simpler, now – and very different.
Entering the restaurant this week you won’t see either a counter or a salad bar in the front. The former is gone and the later has moved to the back. The somewhat confusing corridor no longer lines the right-hand wall as you enter, but along the left-hand wall you’ll find something a bit surprising – a fully stocked bar. While they’ve always had their liquor license, now they are putting their libations front-and-center. She said the idea of calling it the Sunset Bar is that she wants people to consider Trio a happy place to come for a drink after a long day. I’ll add that the food is more than a little better than your average bar.
They’ve also streamlined the entire process. Customers now simply enter, get a drink from the bar or the tea/soda/coffee station in the back and have a seat at a table of their choice. A staff member – I think they call themselves floating cashiers – comes to your table to take your order. They input it on a tablet which immediately sends your order to the kitchen and they will take your payment at your table and run your card while you watch.
If you need something later in your visit, just ask anyone, you don’t have a dedicated server. They’ll also keep a tab open if you think you might like to visit the bar again before you leave. Quick, simple and clean. Adrienne first saw the system in Maui and recognized it as something easily replicated and efficient.
There are other less obvious changes, however, such as a few tasty additions to the menu and extended hours. Menus are waiting on each table – no longer on the wall – and now included smoked, pulled pork dishes, fried ribs and build-your-own wraps. Favorites from the past such as the amazing salad bar, the Applewood Bacon and Cheddar Burger, Cordon Bleu chicken paninni and the full breakfast menu are still available. She noted that there are approximately 1000 combinations of salads or wraps a customer might build.
Hours are now 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM, two hours later than before. That’s good news for me because more than once I’ve walked up to their doors at just after 9:00 PM to find them closed. So, they’ve elevated the experience while still serving good food made with real butter, sugar and cheese just like grandma. It’s a simpler experience and the new arrangement has allowed them to grow to about 100 seats. The seats were full of young gymnasts when I stopped in on Friday.
The new hours are to accommodate the bar, but I’ll likely hit them up for late-night coffee. Their coffee is one of the best kept downtown secrets. They serve Royal Cup coffee, a family-owned business based in Birmingham. “We brew all day and grind fresh. It’s the same coffee that the Ritz Carlton hotel company serves. We love a good cup of coffee!” She adds that they “We donate the coffee for the bike-to-work day each year.” While there are a number of downtown spots to get a good cup, it’s quick there and very good. It’s also lower-priced and the re-fills are free – which you don’t get everywhere.
With a very long-term lease, Adrienne is excited to be a part of Market Square for many years to come. It’s not just her place of work – she lives downtown, so it’s her neighborhood. Check them out soon. I think you’ll be pleased by what you find.