John Dyke: Founder & Owner/Turnip Truck


Tell me about your original concept for Turnip Truck?

My passion for fresh, local food was born in my childhood on our family farm in East Tennessee. After college, I moved to Nashville and began a career in business. Miles from home, I craved the “real food” I had savored as a boy. I was living in East Nashville, but regularly drove across town to buy natural foods from (now-closed) Sunshine Grocery. Each time I went there, I ran into neighbors. Finally it was clear that East Nashville needed a natural foods store of its own, and I dove headlong into charting a plan and educating myself on all aspects of the business.

When did the first store open and how was the reception from the public?

I opened the original Turnip Truck in East Nashville’s 5 Points neighborhood in 2001. My dream was to create a grocery store that was also a gathering place for the community – a place to share ideas and information, and to feel connected. Fifteen years later, it is evident that we accomplished that.

The original store thrived, and I opened a second location in the Gulch in 2010. In the Gulch, we added amenities including hot and cold food bars, a meat department, a deli and a juice bar. That store has been embraced by the neighborhood and beyond. To keep up with growing demand for high quality natural foods in East Nashville, we opened an expanded store on Woodland Street in November of 2015.

What are your best selling items?

Top sellers include our fresh-squeezed juices and local meats, eggs and milk – items customers often are not able to find at big-box chain grocery stores.

What makes your stores unique?

Our business is ultimately not about the bottom line – it’s about relationships. Of course we have to succeed as a business to keep our doors open, but at the end of the day our connections with our customers, farmers and suppliers is everything. I built this business from the ground up to serve our community, and most of my decisions have been informed by input from friends, colleagues and neighbors.

What were some challenges you faced after opening the first location?

My biggest challenge in opening the first store was that I was so new to the natural grocery business. I was coming from a business background, so I had a solid understanding of what it took to make a retail concept succeed. However, the things that make a natural and local grocery store in particular thrive were all new to me. I realized that I needed a deep understanding of all aspects of the business – from the farm to the table – to build the store of my dreams.

How did you overcome those challenges?

I dug in and learned everything I could. You hear people talk about self-taught musicians and artists – I’m a self-taught grocer! I was voracious in my quest for knowledge on the industry, and so I threw myself into studying, networking and reading everything I could get my hands on about natural foods business.

Surrounding myself with thoughtful, passionate people in the field was key. From farmers to industry leaders, I made connections with people who would go on to become longtime friends, mentors and collaborators.

Talk about the new location.

East Nashville has boomed in the years since we first opened our doors. To keep up with growing demand, we opened a new 12,000-square-foot location on Woodland Street last November. The new store offers all of the amenities of the Gulch store – hot and cold food bars, a local meat department, a juice bar, a deli, bulk foods – along with expanded features such as full-service bakery and a large second-floor dining area that also serves as a community gathering space. It is now our flagship store, and our offices are headquartered there.

What are your plans for growth?

Our main goal currently is ensuring that our two locations flourish. Turnip Truck’s business model continues to be to engage our communities in order to grow in ways that best serve our neighbors. That relationship-based approach to growth will always guide us in the right direction.
Advice for a new entrepreneur?

Anticipate the challenges, and embrace them when they come – because they will.

Plan as extensively as you can for contingencies, and mentally prepare yourself for the very real possibility of unforeseen calamities. Acknowledging that crises and hurdles are a fact of business – and life – is very empowering. When you don’t buckle under the strain, most challenges can be transformed into growth experiences.

photo by Emily B. Hall