Meet Knoxville’s First REAL Certified Eateries

In The Daily Dumpster Blog by Clay Dudaleave a COMMENT

More than a dozen Knoxville area eateries are among the first in East Tennessee to be recognized for offering healthy and sustainable menu options, earning REAL Certification from dietitians who evaluate everything from individual menu items to the proximity of farms where produce comes from.

On the inaugural list is a who’s who of well-known restaurants in Knoxville, with some others currently going through the certification process, according to Nikkole Turner, program manager of Eat REAL Tennessee. REAL stands for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership, and to earn certification a restaurant must open itself up to review from a certified dietician, including an onsite inspection and review of purchasing orders, among other things.

The dietitians work with chefs and restaurateurs to evaluate and make suggestions around things like nutritional content, scratch cooking techniques, local sourcing, and the ability for customers to make healthy choices based on menu items offered.

Eateries certified as healthy morsels so far include Bistro at the Bijou; Blackberry Farm; Farm-to-Griddle Crepes; Juice Bar locations in Turkey Creek, Market Square, and Bearden; Knox Mason; Northshore Brasserie; Paleo Foods Cafe; The Plaid Apron; Sunspot; both Tomato Head locations; and Whole Earth Grocery and Cafe in Gatlinburg.

A live long, eat well, and prosper celebration is going down next week with a free event to celebrate the healthy distinction. Dubbed Eat REAL Knoxville, a film screening of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food will be shown at the Relix Variety Theater in Happy Holler (1208 N. Central St.) from 1-3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29. It’s free and open to the public (there will be appetizers!), cash bar.

Funded mainly through state grants, over the past three years Eat REAL Tennessee has targeted food service providers in major cities like Nashville, Memphis, and now Knoxville to help direct restauranteurs and produce providers working with registered dietitians to think harder about the food and drinks they offer, leaning more towards healthier and sustainable options. Since 2013 it’s been funded with a more than $300,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Health and is expected to continue to receive funding for at least the next three years, Turner says.

“The reason it’s in place is to help move the needle and improve health and sustainability in Tennessee,” she says. “Another main goal, like LEED [did for building sustainability], is to try to change the direction of the industry. Since 2013 we’ve been dedicated to help build a relationship between dietitians and restaurateurs.”

REAL Certification programs now operate in 32 states nationally. It’s no cost to restaurants to get certified. State grant money covers the costs of the dietitians, and if an establishment falls short of REAL Certification the program includes recommendations for changes they could make to qualify in the future. On average it takes about a month to complete the process, Turner says. More information is available online at

Clay Duda

Former Mercury staff reporter Clay Duda has covered gangs in New York, housing busts in Atlanta, and wildfires in Northern California. And lots of stuff about Knoxville.

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