John Dyke knew a store like The Turnip Truck could work in his neighborhood.
Before the store opened in 2001, he knew of just one other all-natural grocery store in Nashville, Sunshine Grocery. It was a bit of a haul to drive from his home in East Nashville to Belmont Boulevard, but Dyke — who grew up on a farm in Greeneville, Tennessee — thought the drive was worth it if he could pick up fresh, locally-sourced groceries.
The more he shopped there, the more he saw his East Nashville neighbors shopping alongside him.
“I fell in love with that little grocery store,” Dyke said. “I really thought that East Nashville deserved the same thing that Belmont Boulevard had.”
The original Turnip Truck on Woodland Street celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, and the all-natural, locally-owned grocer has developed a cult following as it’s added stores in the Gulch and West Nashville. Nashville’s grocery scene has changed in the past two decades, with national chains such as Publix, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods replacing standbys such as Sunshine Grocery.
But Dyke said the Turnip Truck — and the community that’s blossomed around it — is ready to keep growing for years to come.
“I truly believe that we are the local grocer,” Dyke said. “We’re the local person that connects the consumer back to the farmer.”
“I have found something that I absolutely love doing every single day.” – John Dyke
On a visit in May, the West Nashville store was stocked with Tennessee-grown items ranging from strawberries and salads to beef and milk. Products are sourced locally whenever possible, and the store rigorously vets suppliers to make sure their offerings are free from “unnecessary” additives.
“I love the selection, and we’re supporting a lot of local people with our groceries. I just think it’s great quality,” said regular shopper Chip Parrott. “It’s kind of (like)going to a farmers’ market but air-conditioned.”
Dyke said 2020 was the toughest year for The Turnip Truck since it opened. The March 3 tornado delayed the opening of their Charlotte Avenue store, and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic created an unprecedented demand for grocery stores, especially early on.
Dyke’s team kept trucking, and the new store opened on March 27, 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the stores added new safety protocols, online ordering and delivery options and supported organizations such as the Second Harvest Food Bank and Nashville Food Project.
“2020 was a heavy burden, but I know that I can help with my amazing team,” Dyke said. “We made the changes necessary on a daily basis.”
One member of that “amazing team” is Dolly Patton-Thomas, who wears a nametag labeled “Miss Dolly.” She started working at The Turnip Truck 13 years ago, and her time there inspired her to start an obesity-focused nonprofit and get a nutrition degree from Belmont University.
“John has been so supportive. Whatever crazy idea I come up with, he believes in me,” Patton-Thomas said. “Local businesses can help you build your dreams, which in turn inspired me.”
That attitude is important to customers like Erika Montijo.
“They vet their suppliers. They pay and treat their people fairly,” Montijo said while shopping at the Charlotte Avenue store. “The money is spent here and stays here.”
Dyke said he’s not worried about the arrival of large national chains. The store has a unique role in Nashville; as he likes to tell customers, “It’s y’all’s store — we just happen to own it.”
“We have a special type of customer,” Dyke said. “What we need to do is develop more customers like that and develop that amazing relationship connecting them back to the food and what they’re taking home.”
That might not always be easy, but Dyke said he’s in it for the long haul.
“I have found something that I absolutely love doing every single day,” Dyke said. “I wake up every day, and that feels really good to know that you’re helping someone.”
Two decades ago, the local landscape for anyone searching for organic and local groceries was pretty bleak. Kroger stocked more generic Cost Cutter beer than organic produce, and Whole Foods had yet to roll into town to separate desperate shoppers from a good portion of their paychecks. John Dyke found himself frequently schlepping across the river from his home in East Nashville’s Edgefield neighborhood to shop at Sunshine Grocery on Belmont Boulevard, and he noticed something intriguing.
“I wasn’t that educated in natural foods at the time, but I did shop at Sunshine,” says Dyke. “Then I saw that there were so many of my neighbors shopping there that I thought, ‘East Nashville needs a store like this!’ ”
That idea was the seed that would ultimately grow into Turnip Truck.
John DykePHOTO: DANIEL MEIGS
Stepping away from his career in surgical supply sales, Dyke reached back to his youth growing up on a farm in East Tennessee for more inspiration. “I was in my 30s the first time I felt like I’d found my passion,” he says. Dyke spent his time attending organic food conferences and educational seminars to learn about the burgeoning industry. “I fell in love with local organic produce, and I felt like a kid in a candy store.”
He leaned on his East Side neighbors for advice as he put his business plan together. “I reached out to see what they wanted,” says Dyke. “Turnip Truck has been a gift to me and a gift to the neighborhood. I happen to own it, but it’s the neighborhood’s store. I just kept slowly building it.”
The building on the edge of the Five Points neighborhood that would eventually house the original Turnip Truck also helped shape Dyke’s business model. “It was an H.G. Hill grocery store in the early 1900s, and I was fascinated by how the Hill family ran their stores,” explains Dyke. “They always located their stores on the right side of the road on the way home from work, often at the top of trolley lines. They sourced a lot of local stuff, buying seasonal products from farmers who grew for these small local stores in the days before chemicals were used in produce. I felt like I was completing the full circle that was coming back around.”
In 2001, Turnip Truck hosted one of Nashville’s first neighborhood farmers markets in its parking lot to help create awareness and demand around locally sourced products. Dyke was also an active member of the Tennessee Organic Growers Association and was instrumental in developing what he calls a “clean list” of ingredients that drive the merchandising at his stores — now expanded to three locations in East Nashville, the Gulch and Sylvan Park. “I started out with organic and natural, plus no hormones or additives, and local whenever possible,” says Dyke.
Turnip Truck COO Kim Totzke explains why this list is so important to the store and to shoppers. “It’s a big part of our core mission,” she says. “Because of that unacceptable ingredients list, shoppers don’t have to look at the back of the box, since we can’t bring it into the store unless it’s a clean product. We take a lot of care in sourcing.”
Totzke has been instrumental in the Turnip Truck’s expansion efforts. Soon after opening his second store in the Gulch in 2010, Dyke realized that he needed some professional help. “I was running two stores, doing all the buying and concentrating on keeping excellent relationships with our employees,” he says. “But I had to start trusting other people to take on responsibility. It was a hard lesson.”
Dyke knew Totzke as an East Nashville neighbor and had worked with her and Adam Williams when the duo ran operations for Provence, whose main production bakery at the time was right across the street from Dyke’s new Gulch store. “I’ve seen visionaries/founders/CEOs build great businesses,” explains Totzke, “and eventually they reach the point where they’re wearing too many hats. John realized that he had grown the business to the point where he couldn’t teach everyone everything anymore, so he brought Adam and I on so that he could focus on innovation, and we could establish the operating procedures and structures to support his entrepreneurship.”
With Totzke handling operations and Williams managing finance and technology as CFO, the trio has developed into something of a dream team. “We’re a good three-legged stool,” jokes Totkze. “We let John dream and plan for innovation and expansion. Adam figures out how we can pay for it, and I figure out how to execute it all. It’s going really well, and it’s nice to see John make suggestions and see them happen.”
PHOTO: DANIEL MEIGS
“I do miss the customer interaction on the floor and working directly with employees,” says Dyke, referencing Turnip Truck’s early days. “But I’m proud that we have built a business that can help people lead a healthier life.”
Another unheralded benefit that Turnip Truck has contributed to the city has been introducing shoppers to local purveyors and artisans who might have previously only been able to sell their products under a 10-by-10 tent in a field somewhere at a market or crafts fair. “People really want local,” says Totzke, “and we want to be Nashville’s grocery store. Our local program has an enormous number of vendors, even if it complicates the buying process. Every item we buy from a small vendor means a separate purchase order, as opposed to a big vendor where we can order a whole pallet of products with a single P.O. But it’s really important to us and our customers, and we like to offer a choice in who you’re doing business with.”
Some local heroes Turnip Truck has been instrumental in bringing to the market include Professor Bailey’s Pimento Cheese, TN Homegrown CBD, Delvin Farms, Ousley Ouch salsas, The Honey Pot personal hygiene products, Blister Hot Sauce and many others. Dyke notes that there’s an inherent difficulty involved with helping raise the visibility of these smaller purveyors. “Once they get discovered, there can be a huge demand to buy directly from them at farmers markets,” he says. “And sometimes we get left out and have to beg for more product for our stores. Still, it feels good to know that as we grow, the community is growing around us.”
PHOTO: DANIEL MEIGS
Dyke also demonstrates his commitment to the community through behind-the-scenes initiatives in his business. The new Sylvan Park store retrofitted its power grid to generate 15 percent of the building’s electrical needs from solar panels that cover almost every square inch of the roof. The current East Nashville outpost — which relocated a few blocks from the original East Side spot in 2016 — has hosted a number of beehives on the roof, until last year’s tornado blew most of them away. “We had grown from one to 10 hives,” recalls Dyke, “but the storm took out all but three of them. We’re installing new hives to regrow the colony and renovating the East Nashville store to include native plants as part of a biodiverse community with the bees.” Turnip Truck will sell honey inside the store and feature some of the bees’ products at their juice bar as well.
Having grown up on a cattle farm, Dyke has always been interested in beef, and he recently purchased a small operation named Richland Hills Farm where he will raise grass-fed beef to sell through the Southern Natural Farms brand. “I love the land,” he says. “It gives me peace. I didn’t intend to farm beef cattle; I thought I’d grow produce. But I’ve been reading about regenerative agriculture and want to concentrate on raising the beef and cultivating the grass underneath them as a CO2 filter that they graze on.”
To celebrate 20 years in business, Turnip Truck has a series called 20 Days of Giving planned for May. Follow them on social media to discover the daily schedule, including $100 gift card giveaways, surprise cart purchases, free soup and sandwich offers from the food bar, deals from their butcher selections and supplement specials.
“The sales will be crazy,” promises Totzke. “We want to give a reason every day for 20 days that you’ll want to come in for.” They’ll also be donating products to local organizations like local outreach organization The Store and raising funds to donate to schools.
“We’re excited to be heading into our 21st year, so we’re giving away stuff and giving back to the community,” says Dyke. “They’re the ones that have given me the gift to make it 20 years.”
Jenna Bratcher is StyleBlueprint Nashville’s Associate Editor and Lead Writer. The East Coast native moved to Nashville 14 years ago, by way of Los Angeles. She is a foodie through and through and enjoys exploring the local restaurant scene bite by bite.
A community go-to since 2001, locally-owned grocery store Turnip Truck is celebrating 20 years in Nashville this year. The mom-and-pop neighborhood favorite – with an extraordinarily helpful staff – specializes in everything from health products and locally sourced produce to delicious prepackaged dishes you can serve up on the spot. Plus, they have killer salad and hot bars and an incredible organic juice bar, too! From fresh flowers to gourmet savories to a fabulous wine selection, the one-stop shopping doesn’t get any better, particularly since there are three locations to choose from: East Nashville, West Nashville, and The Gulch. Since there are so many great items to shop for, our team collaborated to come up with our top five Turnip Truck picks. We can’t wait for you to try them!
Whether you’re visiting the East Nashville, Charlotte Avenue, or Gulch location, Turnip Truck is fully stocked with everything from health supplements to gourmet meals. Image: Instagram
Locally Made Pasta
Handcrafted by a local vendor in small batches, Alfresco artisan pasta offers an authentic taste of Italy right here in Music City. From ribbons of thick fettuccine and spaghetti to frozen ravioli and tortellini, the Turnip Truck carries a beautiful array of options that lend traditional Italian flavor to whatever dish you’re preparing. Also notable, the store has a wide selection of shelf pasta to satisfy every palate and dietary restriction, too — from gluten-free to brown rice or chickpea-based options.
Located in the refrigerated section near the butter and eggs, this fresh, locally made pasta is $5.99 per container. Image: Jenna Bratcher
Wild-caught with sustainable practices in Argentina, Argentinian Royal Red Shrimp are the crème de la crème of shrimp. “Royal red [shrimp] are hard to find in Nashville, and these are delicious,” says StyleBlueprint Founder and CEO Liza Graves, who adds that this particular type of shrimp retains its shrimp flavor but also delivers the butteriness of lobster. Two pounds will easily feed a large family, and they’re easy to peel. Antibiotic- and additive-free, these shrimp are so tasty, they need only be sautéed with some butter for a beautiful dinner. If you’re looking to kick it up a notch, Turnip Truck Marketing Director Z Nelson says, “I love these sautéed with butter and onions, and tossed on some pasta with a squeeze of lemon.”
At $11.99 per pound, the Argentinian Royal Red Shrimp are delicious whether you add them to a pasta dish or eat them on their own. Image: Jenna Bratcher
An easy, inexpensive go-to, rotisserie chicken offers some serious versatility, whether you’re carving it to accompany mashed potatoes, shredding it for tacos, or layering it in a sandwich. We love the classic-brined rotisserie chicken from Springer Mountain Farms, which you can buy for $7.99. It’s also 100% natural with no antibiotics, steroids, growth stimulants or hormones. “The rotisserie chicken makes dinner prep so easy, and I don’t have to worry about all of the bad stuff that’s in other commercial rotisserie chickens,” says StyleBlueprint Director of Marketing Megan Casey, who loves to use it for homemade chicken salad. “I use Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise,” she says. “Then, I include marinated artichokes, Kalamata olives, red onion, and roasted red peppers for a twist.”
Ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken is $7.99 at the Turnip Truck hot bar. Image: Instagram
Not that making your own guacamole is ridiculously labor-intensive, but sometimes you simply don’t have the time or energy to whip up your own. The Turnip Truck gives us a reason not to bother. “Hands down, the Turnip Truck makes the best guac in the city,” says Liza. “Better than any restaurant, I promise!” With simple, fresh ingredients, the in-house guacamole features ripe avocados, lemon juice, red onions and a dash of salt — the perfect combination for snacking. If you’re looking for the best thing to dip into it, Z tells us the Santo Nino Tortilla Chips are perfection. Even better, they’re made in Gallatin, Tennessee!
The in-house guacamole comes in three different sizes and sells for $7.99 per pound. You can find it in the produce section near the bottled drinks. Image: Instagram
Everything You Need for the Perfect Grazing Board
Whether you’re looking for a few bold cheese wedges and some crostini, or you’re building an epic platter of cured meats topped with oodles of festive garnishes, the Turnip Truck has everything you need to build the ideal grazing board. Let your culinary creativity abound! We love grabbing a little bit of this and a little bit of that — from Smoking Goose‘s Gin and Juice Salami to herbes de Provence-rolled Noble Springs Dairy goat cheese, which is made in Franklin. From cornichons and marinated olives to sweet compote, candied nuts and artisan crackers, we could peruse the aisles for hours on end.
Are you looking to create a beautiful grazing board? Give yourself plenty of time to check out the incredible selection of meats, cheeses, crackers and side items at the Turnip Truck. Image: Instagram
To find these delicious items (and so many more!), visit the Turnip Truck at the East Nashville location: 701 Woodland St, Nashville, TN 37206; Charlotte Avenue location: 5001 Charlotte Ave, Nashville, TN 37209; or The Gulch location: 321 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203. Plus, be sure to check out the Turnip Truck’s “20 Days of Giving” celebration to commemorate 20 years in business. From May 1-20, you can enjoy daily giveaways and promotions.
We’re turning 20, Nashville! To celebrate two decades of bringing local, natural foods to the heart of the city, Turnip Truck is giving back to organizations that share our vision.
Plant the Seed @planttheseedtn employs hands-on learning in school and community gardens to inspire and empower local youth. From April 1-14, Turnip Truck customers will have the option to “round up” totals at checkout. Plant the Seed will keep the change to fund their work with more than 1,400 kids weekly at Cambridge, Casa Azafran, Davis and Ross Early Learning Centers, Explore Community School, Rosebank Elementary and Head Start North.
Your extra change will help Plant the Seed make a lasting difference!