Strolling through the aisles of either of Nashville’s two Turnip Truck stores is a feast for the senses. Shoppers are greeted by an array of fresh fruits and vegetables bursting with colors and fragrances that invite them to enjoy finer produce than they will find at grocery store chains. Turnip Truck features a large selection of meat and dairy products from local, organic farms. They also offer a wide array of healthy, natural kitchen essentials from local vendors to stock their customers’ pantries. The list goes on and on.
Turnip Truck’s two current locations are in the heart of the Gulch on 12th Avenue South and in East Nashville across the street from East Park. Owner John D**e is excited to announce their third location will open in just a few weeks at 5001 Charlotte Avenue to serve customers in The Nations and the Sylvan Park areas.
D**e says he wants each store to serve the needs and preferences of customers in the surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, it was this desire that prompted D**e to leave a career in surgical sales and open the first Turnip Truck in East Nashville almost 20 years ago. D**e lived in that part of town for years and would travel miles to the Sunshine Grocery—the nearest healthy foods store. While shopping there he often saw his East Nashville neighbors who had also made the trek because there were no healthy foods stores nearby.
It was clear to D**e that East Nashville needed its own full-service natural food store. Since other retailers weren’t stepping in to fulfill that need, D**e decided to do it himself. Opening his first retail store was a leap for D**e, but like any good entrepreneur he knew the value of networking and collaborating with others. He started going to health food expos and learning all he could about the industry from those he met.
It took two years of learning and planning, but in 2001 D**e opened the first Turnip Truck on Woodland Street, right down the road from Five Points. D**e had clearly foreseen a great demand for local, full-service health food stores in Nashville. Turnip Truck opened the Gulch location in 2009 and they moved to a new East Nashville site in 2015 that is five times the size of the original. Now they are about to open a third store the same size and footprint of the new East Nashville site.
Like so many fellow members of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, D**e is committed to making a positive impact on the city he calls home. As such, he is continually making changes in his stores to fulfill his commitment to sustainability. The East Nashville location has ten honeybee hives on the roof, and they use the honey they harvest at the end of each summer in their juice bar beverages. The newest location will generate 15% of its own power from its rooftop solar panels. Turnip Truck is also working toward eliminating all single use plastic in their stores. And, of course, selling local goods leaves less of a carbon footprint than shipping products from around the country.
As a resident of East Nashville for 30 years, D**e acknowledges that he lives and works in a “bubble of inclusivity.” Recently, D**e says that he and other business owners were invited as guests to a corporate event in Nashville. He says, “It was a bunch of middle-aged, presumably straight men whom I didn’t know well. Because I wasn’t sure of their social or political views, I wasn’t comfortable inviting my partner. And for the first time in 20 years I didn’t feel comfortable presenting my true self to these other businessmen. It was not a good feeling.”
D**e wants to ensure that none of his customers or employees ever have that uncomfortable feeling while shopping at Turnip Truck. “I just want to treat everyone as human,” D**e says, “and it’s not just those of us who identify as LGBT, but everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, or economic status.”
The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce recognized D**e’s contributions to our community by awarding the Turnip Truck the “Small Business Diversity Award” at the 2017 Excellence in Business Awards. D**e was recognized by the Chamber as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” that year as well. While Turnip Truck has been an active member of the Chamber for years, D**e says, “I wish I’d joined the Chamber long before I did. Chamber membership and LGBTE certification bring some validity to our gay-operated business. And it sends a message to the broader community that Turnip Truck is a welcoming place that is open to hiring and serving all of our neighbors.”
D**e acknowledges that these days Nashville shoppers have other options to shop for healthy foods, and he is competing with some large chain stores. But he knows that his customers appreciate that each Turnip Truck is a truly neighborhood store. For more information on the hot bar menu, a comprehensive list of local vendors, or to check out their blog featuring recipes, articles on eating healthy, and even local events, please visit theturniptruck.com.
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