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.
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.
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.
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.
All photography by Z Nelson for The Turnip Truck.
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