Nestled in the middle of a line of equally unique stores along Union Avenue sits Just Ripe, Knoxville's year-long source for fresh, local and organic foods.
Just Ripe opened its doors in May 2011. Despite the fairly recent opening, manager Charlotte Tolley said the essence of the store has been in Knoxville for longer than two years.
"We actually started with a food cart at the Market Square Farmers Market where we made some baked goods and food based on what we could find locally," Tolley said. "We always wanted to showcase some products from other people which is kind of where the store came in."
Regional products pack the shelves, including apple butter from Asheville, N.C., Roobie Red Tea from Louisville, Ky. and fruit preserves from Nashville, Tenn.
The farmers market, along with extensive research, widely helped in finding the local and regional products the store stocks.
"I also run the Market Square Farmers Market, so I know a lot of people from there," Trolley said. "So, we carry a lot of products you would find from there as well. Before we opened the store, when we would travel somewhere, we would go to the grocery stores and looked at products there. And now, we learn about products through certain magazines and people's suggestions."
Even though they have gained more square footage since their food cart days, Just Ripe still finds its roots in the Market Square Farmers Market.
"We still do some of the things that we did at that cart such as our vegetable tarts that we make, some of the salads and then the store helped the addition of more baked goods," Trolley said.
The bakery has already become a weekly tradition for locals in its two years. Mark Anderson, a West Knoxville resident, frequents the shop every Sunday after church.
"Church at St. John's, and then lunch at Just Ripe," Anderson said. "My daughter loves the people there. I explained to her that people become progressively more interesting the further you get from West Knoxville."
For Anderson, part of the appeal of Just Ripe and downtown in general lies in these idyllic Sunday afternoons. In the long run, afternoons like Anderson's are how local businesses create a fan base and remain an important cog in a community.
"Sometimes, we buy a jar of homemade jelly to go on our biscuits, and we like to sit by the window and watch the folks going by and talk about how fun it would be to live downtown," Anderson said.
When walking up to the counter, customers come face to face with a display case filled with buttermilk biscuits, vegan chocolate chip cookies and a variety of breakfast scones among other homemade goods. Behind the case, a clean menu hangs from the ceiling describing an assortment of fresh smoothies, organic juice concoctions and Little Bear Brew coffee.
According to Lindsey Huff, however, Just Ripe's quality food does come at a price. Huff, a fifth year student in mechanical engineering and sustainability, lives downtown and frequents the shop.
"It's a great option for someone who really cares about where their food comes from," Huff said. "They even have a calendar of availability of certain foods, which is cool so you can know you're eating what's in season. It's an alright option for college students – it's a little pricey."
As Just Ripe grows into a key block of the Knoxville community, they have big news for the upcoming week.
"We're actually having a block party on Thursday. It's our first event," Trolley said.
The party will run from 5-8 p.m. and will feature a handful of Union Avenue businesses as well as several food trucks and Just Ripe desserts. Trolley said Just Ripe's growth has been part of the growth the community has seen over the past year and contributes to the relational vibe downtown offers.
"Our building was unoccupied for a number of years, and it all filled up within a year," she said. "So, it's been a huge transformation for this block. It's a really great part of downtown.
"It feels like a neighborhood.''