By Megan Scott
October 16, 2020
Seventeen days into Suzanne Loving’s new gig as the executive chef at Trio Restaurant and Market in Kitty Hawk, businesses throughout North Carolina were ordered to close for dine-in service to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The kitchen team Loving had just begun reshaping in late February was forced to temporarily disband while Trio’s management developed a plan. Fortunately, navigating uncertainty happens to be right in Loving’s wheelhouse.
Several years ago, on a whim, Loving moved from her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia, where her family runs a successful funeral home business, to Nashville, Tennessee. “I’m really proud of (my family) and proud of what they do, that was just not my path,” Loving says of striking out on her own. “I’ve never had a hard time making big decisions like that. It’s the aftermath where it’s like, OK, now I’ve gotta do these things.”
The first thing Loving did was find a job working at Williams Sonoma where she was assigned the unfamiliar task (at the time) of roasting turkeys for the store’s live demos — an experience that inspired her to attend culinary school at The Art Institute of Tennessee. After graduating, Loving worked in restaurants and served as executive chef for a corporate food service company. She described putting in exhausting 80-hour weeks. She was 25, making great money with benefits, but “I was miserable,” she says. “I thought I could do something better, and I decided I was going to open a pie shop.”
So, in 2012, Loving set out with little more than her savings and a vision and opened The Loving Pie Company in downtown Nashville’s Berryhill area. Neighbors included music studios and the House of Blues. “It was this neighborhood full of creatives who just really enjoyed what they were doing, and this whimsical little pie shop just fit right into the mix,” Loving says.
The dine-in eatery served 20-plus dessert and savory pies, including comfort food favorites such as chicken pot pie and mac and cheese pie. There were pop culture-themed pies and Showtunes Saturdays, featuring Broadway-inspired pies showcasing Loving’s affection for theater. “It was really fun. I had a great team that believed in what we were doing. We had all the trials and tribulations of a small business (but) everyone handled those mostly in stride.”
With a humble smile, Loving went on to describe the pie shop as “pretty charming” but that’s an understatement. Not only did it become a gathering place in the heart of downtown, but The Loving Pie Company filled a void in Nashville’s up-and-com-ing food scene still saturated with “meat and three” restaurants and uninspired desserts. According to local publications like Nashville Scene, Loving’s scratch-made pies were the best in town.
“It was really exciting,” Loving says. “(The shop) attracted such good people. A lot of my friends to-day are my friends because of the pie shop. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.”
After a hugely successful seven-year run, and with a drastic rent increase on the way, Loving decided the time was right to embrace the unexpected again and head out on a new adventure. This one would bring her closer to her Hampton Roads family, nearer to the ocean air she’d been missing, and back into a restaurant kitchen that would put her extensive skill set to good use. She landed at Trio in August 2019, having answered an ad the restaurant placed for a cook. “My goal was always to run this kitchen,” Loving says. “I thought, ‘I’ll just dig in and invest in what (they) already have going and see how that goes.’”
Owner Kenny Hyman says Loving has brought a new point of view and some exciting inspiration from Nashville’s now-legendary food scene. Under Loving’s influence, Trio’s brunch menu has gained a few southern favorites, such as a breakfast bowl of North Carolina grits, roasted corn and local squash, and a sweet potato hash topped with avocado and a fried egg. Loving’s food centers around color, vibrancy and local-as-possible ingredients, and her popular weekly specials – which feature fresh North Carolina seafood and produce – spotlight those objectives in the best way.
Of course, there are also the pies Loving has added to Trio’s menu, such as the heavenly-sounding Coffee Chess Pie, which she promises tastes precisely the way good coffee smells, sweet and creamy. You can also indulge in a PB&J Pie featuring a reduction of Trio’s Black Widow Blackberry Cider, making us wonder why anyone would bother with the sandwich form ever again.
Behind the scenes, Hyman describes Loving as “the opposite of the stereotypical chef ” thanks to her calm, centered disposition. Loving praises Trio’s management for their commitment to fostering staff development and creativity and she seems to pay it forward to her young kitchen crew by making their professional growth and well-being (especially in these trying times) a personal priority. She believes in the notion that you’re only as strong as your team and that having a solid network of support is crucial to success.
As the pandemic continues to shape our new normal, Loving continues to take things as they come. Given her track record of being at ease with the unknown, a sharp focus on deliciously creative food, and a streak of whimsical ambition, Loving’s Outer Banks adventure is surely one to watch.
Suzanne Loving’s Coconut Custard Pie
1¾ cups sugar1 tablespoon flour
½ cup butter, melted¼ cup milk
¼ cup half-and-half
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 cup shredded coconut
1 unbaked pie crust, (9-inch, homemade or store-bought)
2 cups whipped cream
Toasted coconut, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine sugar and flour. Stir in butter, milk, half-and-half and eggs until completely combined.
Add vanilla and salt. Stir in 1 cup coconut.
Pour into pie crust and bake 50–60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.
Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut for service.
Who: Chef Suzanne Loving of Trio Restaurant and Market
What: Seasonal fare, featuring local ingredients and scratch made desserts
When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-11 p.m. Sunday
Where: 3708 N. Croatan Hwy., Kitty Hawk