JOHN DYKE AND THE TURNIP TRUCK HAVE EVOLVED WITH A CHANGING CITY.
Written By: Nancy Vienneau
Photographers: Ron Manville
Inside the newest iteration of The Turnip Truck in East Nashville, it’s easy to be enthralled by the expansive space, the walls of glass, the wide aisles, the brilliant displays of produce, and the second-floor bridge overhead. Founder John Dyke feels that too, but he is also proud to trace that growth to the store’s humble beginnings.
The son of a Greeneville, Tennessee, farmer who grew up eating fresh-as-it-gets foods, Dyke was instilled with a love of farm life and the good things it produced. He knew what a tomato should taste like. Bringing that goodness to the marketplace was sparked at a beloved and bygone store, Sunshine Grocery, after Dyke moved into East Nashville’s Edgefield neighborhood in 1990.
“I had allergies and found the local bee pollen I needed on the other side of town at Sunshine,” Dyke recalls. “But I found more. They had all-natural foods, organic produce—some of it locally grown—bulk spices, even great deli sandwiches. It also had a real spirit of community. Staff and customers engaged. People I knew from my neighborhood shopping there. And I thought, We need a place like this in East Nashville.”
It took time, research, and diligence for Dyke to learn the basics of the business and get the right location. In May 2001, he opened The Turnip Truck at 10th and Woodland in a building that went up a century earlier as an H.G. Hill grocery store. It felt right to return it to its original purpose, he says. Using Sunshine Grocery as his model, he sold whole foods—and as much local as possible.
“In the early days, we faced many challenges,” Dyke says. “I came to this understanding: This is a neighborhood store. I own it, but it’s my customers to shape. I’ll listen. Give me feedback.”
And the community did, embracing The Turnip Truck straightaway. That helped him align with the best supplement companies, ones with standardized testing, training, and education.
“We had outgrown the building by the time we opened our [second] store in The Gulch,” Dyke admits.
But that gave his team time to hone new aspects of the business just introduced there—like hot food service, a deli, and a juice bar—and to plan the new store in East Nashville. Just blocks from the original location, the flagship now boasts more than 12,000 square feet, offering full-service meat and seafood departments, a bakery and deli, beer and kombucha on tap, a hot and cold bar, and bountiful displays of fruits and vegetables that greet you as you enter. The second-floor bridge overlooks it all.
“The community is the heart of our store,” Dyke says. “We wanted to provide a café space where our customers can go to eat, read, relax.” The Turnip Truck will soon host cooking demonstrations and classes. Other future plans include aquaponics, rooftop gardens, and a greenhouse.
“Food that travels zero miles—think how amazing that will be,” Dyke says.