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Trio restaurant feeds employees it was forced to lay off because of coronavirus protective measures

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Ashlee Francom, general manager at Cafe Trio in Salt Lake City, shares a laugh with Megan Stanley as she delivers a family meal to the furloughed employee outside of the restaurant on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Cafe Trio was forced to furlough most of its employees due to COVID-19 restrictions. The restaurant is providing a free daily meal to all of its employees, including those who have been laid off. The employees pick up their meal, which changes daily, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Every night Megan Stanley opens an email from the restaurant that laid her off along with 90% of her co-workers when coronavirus precautions limited restaurants to takeout orders.

The email from Trio management lets her know what food they’ll have ready for her and any of her co-workers who need it the next afternoon.

“I was kind of blown away at first,” said Stanley, a 23-year-old who works a second full-time job as a paraprofessional in the Salt Lake City School District. “It’s not something you expect. I was anticipating not working at Trio for a while with all the restrictions, but when they said they were going to feed us, well that doesn’t happen a lot.”

Ashlee Francom is Trio’s general manager, and she said the order from Salt Lake County essentially “shut us down. We had to lay off 90% of our employees.” It was a gut-wrenching situation as Francom tried to decide who could stay on through the COVID-19 shutdown, and who would need to be laid off.

“It was really hard,” Francom said. “We still had to keep a couple of people on to do take out orders. Three people got to stay. It was really hard because we just did this in September, when we had to close the Cottonwood Heights location. It’s really rough.”

As they grappled with the decisions, Trio’s chef, Lloyd Kianfar, made a suggestion. It didn’t change the harsh reality of what they had to do, but it did mitigate some of the pain.

“He said, ‘I want to take care of everybody’,” Francom said. “We have all of this food, and if we make meals for our employees every day, nothing will go to waste. It’s a win-win.”

Francom said most of the employees pick up meals several times a week. It’s a chance to do more than feed her former employees.

“It’s a chance to see them,” she said, “and check in with them.”

Stanley said she anticipated the shutdown of restaurants, and she volunteered to be among those laid off.

“Since (working at) Trio was my second job,” she said. “I decided to step down and let other people work.”

Francom said most of their employees are young and single, like Stanley, but they wanted to let them know they cared about them, even if they couldn’t keep them working.

“They are our family,” Francom said. “We’re watching the news every day, and things change constantly. But we’re also looking forward to how we can retain them. We tell them, we want you to come right back. We’re hoping to open in a couple of months.”

Francom said the restaurant’s revenue has dropped off, but their regular customers have kept them afloat with takeout orders.

“We do have a bunch of regulars who come in, and they’re making sure the servers are taken care of,” she said. “A few have left big tips, which is unusual on to-go orders.”

Stanley began working at Trio around Thanksgiving last year. She worked as a server on the weekend and a host one night a week. She works full time as a paraprofessional at Glendale Middle School. She’s technically on call right now, working once or twice a week.

“I’ve always been good at saving, but I’m also really close with my family, and if anything went seriously wrong, I could always ask them for help,” she said. “I’m very lucky.”

Stanley said the meals have been so generous that she shares with her roomate, her boyfriend and sometimes her family.

“It’s been amazing,” she said of the meals. “I can eat it for dinner or lunch the next day. I have leftovers in my fridge. ... I don’t have to go to the grocery store. Every night, they email us telling us what the food is going to be. It’s really amazing.”

She had plans to try and get a job at Utah Valley University or the University of Utah, but now she says she’s just waiting to see what the job market looks like after the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m just kind of waiting, like everybody else,” she said. “I don’t really have a plan right now. But I know I’ll figure it out.”