The Turnip Truck grocery store in West Nashville donated a van full of fresh produce to The Nashville Food Project on June 1. (Photo: Z Nelson)
To celebrate opening its third location in West Nashville, the Turnip Truck donated a van of fresh local produce to The Nashville Food Project on June 1.
Founded in 2001 by John Dyke, the Turnip Truck is a Nashville grocery store which sources its products from local producers. Turnip Truck COO Kim Totzke said due to the pandemic, they decided to donate to The Nashville Food Project in lieu of a grand opening for their new Charlotte Avenue location, which opened in March.
“The spirit of the Turnip Truck has always been about the community and with such crazy times and there being a real problem with folks having access to quality, healthy food, we felt it was really important to donate at this time,” Totzke said.
The Turnip Truck grocery store in West Nashville donated a van full of fresh produce to The Nashville Food Project on June 1. (Photo: Z Nelson)
Totzke said the van was “packed full of food” — entirely fresh produce — when they sent it to The Nashville Food Project from the Turnip Truck’s nearby Charlotte Avenue location.
“When there’s a food donation, typically it’s a lot of dry products,” Totzke said. “But the ability to get fresh produce is real important, especially with the pandemic. Fresh produce is a big part of making sure you’re healthy and taking care of yourself.”
The Nashville Food Project, is a non-profit that grows, cooks and donates food to the impoverished community in Nashville. The nonprofit has provided more than 35,000 meals in the wake of COVID-19 and the March tornadoes.
It would be easy for The Turnip Truck to hunker down in the midst of these difficult times. The Nashville chainlet of grocery stores that sources locally produced products, many of them organic, has had quite a year so far. First, their East Nashville location was right in the path of the storm of the early-March tornado, and then they opened their third and latest location in West Nashville in the middle of the pandemic-mandated lockdown. Under these regulations, they were not able to operate their popular prepared food bars, a favorite amenity of their legions of fans.
But instead of licking their wounds, the management of The Turnip Truck has maintained their dedication to helping out the community, including food donations that directly benefit Nashville’s most at-risk residents. Earlier this month the grocery donated enough seasonal produce to The Nashville Food Project to prepare more than 35,000 meals that will be distributed to those in need.
“As Nashville’s local grocer, we are honored to support The Nashville Food Project’s work to nourish our community with wholesome food,” Turnip Truck’s chief operating officer Kim Totzke says. “This has been a challenging year for Nashville, with COVID-19 and the tornadoes. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we support our neighbors’ health and well-being.”
The Nashville Food Project will use the donations as part of its Community Meals Program, in addition to the novel urban agriculture program that supports neighborhood gardens to allow families to grow food for themselves and to sell. “As an organization, we’re committed to featuring fresh produce in our meals for kids, seniors and all the communities we serve as often as possible, so of course we’ve been longtime fans of the Turnip Truck’s work to keep our neighbors nourished with healthful choices,” says Tallu Schuyler Quinn, CEO of The Nashville Food Project. “We’re thrilled to accept this generous gift and steward it to its highest, best use in meals for the community.”
As Nashville’s truly local grocer, The Turnip Truck never fails to rise to the occasion when the community has needs, even in the face of their own business difficulties. They deserve our attention and support!
During the first five years, John Dyke exhausted every ounce of energy and used every penny he had.
He tapped into his home equity “a couple of times” to keep his business afloat. He often worked 10- to 12-hour days, seven days a week. There were even countless times when feeding himself meant buying and eating what Dyke calls “expired product that I knew was still good.”
“Instead of having the loss, I would put my own money back into the store and I would eat any of the loss,” Dyke said. “I did that for a very long time. It kept the store healthy.”
This month marks 19 years of Dyke owning The Turnip Truck, a trio of local grocery stores in Nashville built around natural foods. He’s a long way from the days of having to “eat any of the loss.”
But similar to his time opening the first Turnip Truck, the March 3 tornado and Covid-19 forced Dyke back into working 10 to 12 hours, seven days a week.
The Turnip Truck is considered an essential business and has remained busy throughout the coronavirus lockdown.
Initially, Dyke couldn’t devote all his attention to Covid-19 because he spent early March dealing with the tornado that struck Nashville and Middle Tennessee. He spent six or seven days digging out equipment from his warehouse that took a direct hit.
But one day, he had to pause as he saw a spike in sales.
“How we noticed the impact of Covid-19 was the customers coming in and the basket sizes they were buying had almost tripled at that time,” Dyke said. “I knew that it was here, and people were showing it with their shopping.”
Amid this crisis, Dyke has added more shelves and hired more employees. At the beginning of quarantine in March, Dyke opened The Turnip Truck’s third location, a store in West Nashville. He also introduced an e-commerce platform and announced the stores would be hiring 30 employees.
One area of the business that has been hurt the most is The Turnip Truck’s food-service stations, which include hot and salad bars. While the stations account for 20% of his business, Dyke closed them for safety reasons. Dyke said reopening the stations in the short term means having employees pre-pack salads and other meals to avoid them becoming high-touch points.
While the circumstances are tough, Dyke remains willing to do whatever is necessary to save his business and provide what he believes to be a necessary service.
“I love this business. It’s the first thing I’ve ever done in my life where I feel like I’m giving back to the community,” Dyke said. “You can go to other grocery stores. But when you come into The Turnip Truck, we care about your lifestyle. We care about your health. People come in here looking for answers on how to make themselves feel better, and how to have a healthier lifestyle. It makes me happy to be able to serve them.”
Dyke opened The Turnip Truck in May 2001 after more than a decade in medical sales. Dyke had grown tired of the grueling travel schedule that kept him on the road for five days each week.
Dyke spent his formative years on a family farm in Greenville, Tennessee. That’s where his love for natural foods began.
It culminated three years prior to opening The Turnip Truck as Dyke immersed himself in the natural food industry by reading literature and attending every natural food expo he could.
“It reminded me of all the fresh gardening we did growing up,” Dyke said. “How much was raised. How much was canned. It reminded me that all the food I ate as a kid was grown outside my house or across the street. From spring on to summer, there was some sort of crop coming in. I always go back to the tomatoes: Some of the best tomatoes are homegrown. That was the best part of the year, getting a homegrown tomato out of your garden during that time because it tastes so much better. They had full flavor, they were juicy and they tasted like what a tomato should taste like.”
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Ashley is StyleBlueprint’s Editorial Director. She loves storytelling and the opportunity to explore the South via the content on StyleBlueprint.
John Dyke opened the first Turnip Truck store back in 2001 in East Nashville. Since then, the business has expanded to now have three Nashville locations, its newest one opening on Charlotte Avenue only a few short weeks ago — during a pandemic, no less. Since then, John and his crew have been hustling to keep shelves stocked and staff and customers safe. Find out more about John, learn what it’s like to open a business during the pandemic, and hear the most impactful experience he’s had during it all.
John Dyke has been serving up healthy options via The Turnip Truck since 2001, and his commitment to that mission is stronger than ever.
You recently opened your Charlotte Avenue Turnip Truck location. What was it like opening the store as the quarantine was just getting underway?
It was an adventure, to put it mildly. Along with being in quarantine, we had also lost a significant amount of equipment for the store in the Nashville tornadoes the previous month. Our team rallied to complete the store and stock the shelves, realizing that our neighbors need food and supply sources now more than ever.
What sort of safety measures have you taken — and required your staff to take — to ensure your employees and shoppers are all safe during this time?
If you’re familiar with our business, you know that health is at the very heart of what we do. To provide whole, organic food in an unsafe environment would be counterintuitive — and just wrong. Our goal during COVID-19 has been to take all the measures within our power to keep our team members and customers safe. This involves providing masks for our employees, installing register shields, and keeping hand sanitizer constantly available for employees and guests. We always have stringent cleaning practices, and we have amplified those during the pandemic. That includes wiping down carts and counters all day and running shopping baskets through a sanitizing wash cycle. We also encourage social distancing in the store and are constantly checking in with our teams to make sure everyone is healthy and in a good place to serve our guests.
Several weeks ago, John trained his staff on the ins and outs of the new online ordering platform.
What are the major differences in your day-to-day work now vs. pre-COVID-19?
Difficult times tend to teach us about ourselves, and COVID-19 has reminded me how much I enjoy this line of work. I’m definitely a hands-on entrepreneur, involved in every aspect of The Turnip Truck’s operations. At such a challenging and unprecedented time, I owe it to my business, my customers and myself to show up and lead — every day. This pandemic has meant longer hours, many new tasks and more daily decisions. It has also been very humbling to be able to provide such an essential service such as providing food to our community.
What has been the biggest impact on your business as a result of COVID-19 and the quarantine?
Keeping up with demand for essential items such as paper products has been an unprecedented hurdle. Being able to provide friendly, personal service while maintaining social distancing in the store has been key to us, and I’m proud of our teams for rising to the occasion.
What has been the most memorable or impactful experience you have had during this period of time?
I’ll never forget the day we packed 500 bags of groceries donated by our vendor UNFI and delivered them to the Second Harvest Food Bank at East Nashville’s Martha O’Bryan Center. Our community has been hit twice — first by the tornadoes, then by COVID-19 — and people are struggling to put food on the table. It was humbling to be able to help in some way.
This sentiment is at the heart of The Turnip Truck.
Have there been any changes to your business practice that were made due to COVID-19 you think you may continue even after the pandemic ends?
Absolutely. One service we have rolled out recently is online ordering and grocery delivery. This was something we had planned to do later this year, but we expedited the process due to the pandemic. Customers have responded very well, and we will certainly continue that service.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to thank Nashville for supporting local businesses. We are here because we love our neighbors, and we have felt the love during this pandemic. This has been a tough time for everyone, but I hope we never forget how much we need each other. We are stronger together, and I’m so glad to call Nashville home.
Thank you, John! To learn more about The Turnip Truck, to order groceries, or to find a Turnip Truck location near you, visit theturniptruck.com.
To better understand the scope of the challenges small businesses are facing due to the coronavirus, the Nashville Business Journal has been staying in close contact in recent weeks with seven CEOs, owners and entrepreneurs. For this story, we asked them variations of this question: “What are you doing to save your business?” The question is not a perfect fit, as some executives feel prepared for this moment, and even see big opportunities to grow market share. But for others — who are attempting to avoid layoffs or whose revenue has suddenly disappeared — the question couldn’t be more pressing.
We’ll continue to follow these people and companies in the coming weeks. Indeed, you’ll hear from them again on May 29, when we and the rest of The Business Journals network will publish our “Small business, big mission” special report, which will tell the stories of how companies across the country are evolving. But for now, here’s a look inside Nashville companies’ fight for survival.
John Dyke tries to avoid letting the stress overwhelm him, but the doubts still creep into his mind.
Is the staff happy, safe and taken care of? Am I doing all the right things to protect our customers? Do we have enough products?
Dyke’s The Turnip Truck, a trio of local grocery stores, is considered an essential business and has remained busy throughout the coronavirus lockdown.
“There’s been stress, but I don’t like carrying it into the store,” Dyke said. “What I’ve done is buckled down every day and changed my role to being more hands-on on the [sales] floor. I try not to carry the stress into the business.”
Amid this crisis, Dyke has added more shelves and hired more employees. Following the tornado and at the beginning of quarantine in March, Dyke opened The Turnip Truck’s third location, a store in West Nashville. He also announced the company would be hiring 30 employees.
Since then, Dyke has launched the company’s e-commerce platform. Dyke also said he plans to hire another 20 or more people to meet both in-store and online demand.
“We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can help people out as an essential business,” Dyke said. “With most people not eating out, The Turnip Truck has been a great asset for the community.”
One area of the business that has been hurt the most is The Turnip Truck’s food service stations, which include hot and salad bars. Dyke made the decision to close the stations, which account for 20% of his business, for safety. He’s currently planning for how to re-open that part of the business once things are safe again.
“We don’t know if it’s two, four or six weeks out, but we want to have the guidelines in place so we’re ready to go when it’s safe to start that part of the business again,” Dyke said.
NASHVILLE,Tenn. – Furthering his mission of bringing the finest farm-fresh food to Nashville, Turnip Truck founder and owner John Dyke will open his third full-service natural grocery store at 5001 Charlotte Ave., Friday, March 27, at 10 a.m.
“Two weeks ago, much of the equipment for this store was destroyed by the tornado,” Dyke said. “With Covid-19 striking on the heels of that, we knew we had to press forward to help feed our neighbors. I’m thrilled to say that – against all odds – we are opening a day earlier than we had originally planned. It won’t be as polished as we had hoped, but it will be open.”
The 15,000-sq.-ft. store will offer produce, groceries, a butcher, bulk foods, beer and wine, supplements, health and beauty items, and a filtered water station. Customers can expect the most local food available, with produce sourced within 200 miles. While this may be affected by the current situation, in a typical season, a full 90 percent or more of Turnip Truck’s produce is organic. Other products including local grass-fed meats, supplements and packaged foods are sourced for their lack of artificial colors, sweeteners, fillers, preservatives, thickeners or additives.
The store will include a hot bar, salad bar, 100% organic juice bar and deli. Due to Covid-19, the salad and hot bars are currently closed at all Turnip Truck locations.
“This would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of our team and the support of the City of Nashville,” Dyke said. “We are thrilled to have more than 90 local companies represented in our inventory. In addition, we are creating new jobs here for 70 employees.”
Turnip Truck is working to respond to increased demand for groceries citywide by adding staff. Dyke said that in the past week alone, he has hired 30 new employees for his stores to ensure shelves stay stocked. Customers can expect a highly sanitary shopping experience at Turnip Truck stores, with strict cleaning protocol and special sanitizing stations inside and out.
“With the current threat to our health, now’s the time focus on nutrition and building up our immunity,” Dyke said. “Our team has always been a health partner to our customers, and we are ready and able to help folks find the right products and supplements for their individual needs.”
Continuing Turnip Truck’s legacy of sustainable business and building practices, rooftop solar panels will provide 15 percent of the store’s energy. Turnip Truck returns vegetable debris (compost) produced in food preparation to nearby farms. Customers will find recycling stations in the new location, which will not use plastic grocery bags – a store policy since 2014.
Dyke opened the original Turnip Truck Natural Market on Woodland Street in East Nashville in 2001. An East Tennessee native, he grew up on a family farm and sought to bring the health and wellness benefits of whole, local foods to his Nashville neighborhood. Nearly two decades later, he has opened a flagship store in East Nashville, a Gulch location – and, now, a Charlotte Avenue grocery. “I opened our first store in East Nashville to meet the needs of my neighbors, and we have expanded throughout Nashville to meet demands for a truly local grocer,” he said.
ABOUT TURNIP TRUCK
Founded in 2001 by John Dyke, Turnip Truck is Nashville’s only full-service locally owned natural foods grocer. Specializing in local, natural and organic foods and products, the store has locations in East Nashville, the Gulch and Charlotte Pike. To learn more, visit theturniptruck.com.