The Bright World of Pomelo Grove

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Ashtin Paige

After a career in the retail industry, Erin Wolff left New York because of the ever-often burnout. 

“(I) knew that I wanted to start my own business, but was kind of disenchanted with the retail world and the never-ending cycle of selling things,” she said. “I knew that (in) my entrepreneurial venture, I’d want to do something that is experience-based and not in the economy of things.”

She and her husband decided to take a cross-country trip before circling back to Nashville; her husband’s family is from Franklin and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, so they’d spent time there. Along their travels, Wolff gained clarity on her vision.

“I just noticed a trend with unique hospitality experiences,” she said.

From a tiny-house hotel in Portland, a camper-Teepee cross experience in Texas, to a treehouse hotel in Washington, her ideas began taking shape.

“When we came to Nashville, with all the tourism and the type of people moving to Nashville, I just felt like it was a great location to open up a unique hospitality concept,” she said. “We kind of rolled the dice.”

Wolff embarked on a three-year “labor of love” to create Pomelo Grove: An off-the-grid boutique-camper experience right outside of Nashville.

“The first year-and-a-half was really laying the groundwork for trying to find a permanent location,” she said.

With all the regulations and zoning codes in the area, she wasn’t able to find Pomelo Grove’s permanent place; but instead, maybe something better, for now at least.

Currently, Pomelo Grove resides in a field on Bloomsbury Farm, an organic farm beloved to Nashville, located in Smryna, Tennessee.

“I’m kind of operating as a pop-up campground on their property,” Wolff said, while still looking for a permanent location for one day down the line.

But for now, Pomelo Grove has focused on knitting together a community-based experience, completely outside of “regular” experiences. Distinctiveness has been sewn into the Pomelo’s foundation, from the building of the campers themselves. The layouts are custom-designed, and the campers’ exterior is “technically a roofing material” that more or less clicks into place to create a watertight barrier that is offered in a “great palette of colors.”

Wolff did the “big picture design” of the campers herself. While the campers’ layouts are largely the same, the design is completely different, each one focusing on “color, pattern, vibe.”

“I didn’t want to do like a cookie-cutter thing,” she said. “I just feel like color is life and energy, so I just do a lot of color, and I get bored really easily. I love prints and mixing and matching prints.”

She credits her style to her background in retail.

“I just know you always have to be innovative to catch people’s attention,” she said.

Knowing this, Wolff said she was very intentional about sourcing things like light fixtures and bathroom mirrors – always searching for “super unique” pieces people “haven’t seen before.”

Wolff’s talent is found in big-picture designs; but she admits the fine-details are not her strong suit. For intricate designs – like decor placement and scavenging mismatched dishware – she outsourced to a local designer. Because the campers are small, and “there’s no space” to transition themes and designs, she wanted the functionality and flow to reach a level of perfection.

Wolff wanted to curate the experience, too, not just the space. She spent time forging relationships with those in the Nashville scene, paying special attention to source products and goods locally. From a local coffee roastery creating a special Pomelo Grove roast, to Nashville-made soaps, cocktails, homemade pancake mix and artisan s’mores kits – “all those little pampering-sort of details people really love, and all of it’s sourced locally,” she said.

By “bringing all of that together,” Wolff has created a customized Nashville experience that “customers really notice and love.” As a part of Pomelo, she still wants her out-of-town guests to experience Nashville’s food scene; so, she’s also partnered with several restaurants to provide a “really nice” eating experience. Her guests have the option to choose from several meal kits – all offering locally-sourced ingredients – they can assemble on-camp.

“It’s just a nice way to kind of slow down, too,” she said. “It forces you to slow down, and take the time to prepare a great, great meal with everything we have provided.”

To help her customers slow down more, Pomelo Grove does not have TVs and doesn’t offer wifi, so “most people are hanging out outside” around the fire pit. The campers are spread out through the field, so campers don’t have to interact with others unless they want to. Wolff said this has been perfect during the pandemic, which is the only way Pomelo Grove has existed so far, as it opened the first week of June 2020.

While most in the hospitality industry suffered, Pomelo Grove found its niche, and offered people a much-needed escape.

“You don’t cross paths with people unless you want to, so it felt like a safe place for people to gather,” she said. “A lot of people were coming that had super fancy anniversary trip plans that got canceled and they came to Pomelo because there’s something special that they can do locally that’s still fun. While I can never compete with Hawaii or a European three-week vacation, to honor the things people were celebrating was really, really special.”

Wolff admits that opening in the pandemic was terrifying, but she believes “Pomelo is a part of a lot of really special things that probably wouldn’t be the case if the pandemic hadn’t happened.” One example specifically comes to her mind.

Over Thanksgiving, she had a family rent out all three campers: One for the parents, the other two for their children and grandchildren. Among the bunch: their youngest grandchild, who they hadn’t yet been able to meet because of COVID.

“There are a lot of instances like that where people just were so grateful to have a fun and special, clean, safe space to gather with the people that they love,” she said.

From birthdays, to anniversaries and bachelorette parties, Wolff has hosted countless people still trying to enjoy the special occasions in life that deserve to be celebrated. In fact, Pomelo Grove has been so widely accepted and celebrated, in October – just a few months after opening – Wolff decided to build two more campers, increasing the group to a total of five campers as of the beginning of May 2021.

These two new campers have a few design tweaks compared to the first three. Wolff found that 30% of her customers don’t use the shower, so she converted the new bathrooms to be half-baths – allocating more lounge space, which can be converted into a second queen-size bed (whereas the original campers’ living area is converted into a small twin-size bed). The main queen bed in the new campers will have a skylight, letting guests sleep under the stars; along with larger windows that open outward for a “retro vibe.”

Along with expanding her campers, she’s also expanded her staff by hiring two extra people to be on call to help things run smoothly. The campers run off of generators, and Wolff brings in well water each day to keep each camper’s 40-gallon tank filled and to restock firewood. She does her best to keep an open line of communication with those staying at Pomelo Grove to make sure they have the best experience possible.

“We’re here, we care about the experience and want to make sure you have everything you need,” she said. “And we also recognize that this is a little different, because we are off the grid, so we just want to make sure people know that we’re there to help.”

Each camper has its own name: The Petiole, Albedo, Melogold, Flavedo and The Shaddock. The names can be drawn back to pomelos, like the legend of Captain Shaddock who brought the pomelo with him from the East Indies.

“The Shaddock represents exploration and discovery,” Wolff said. “We feel like the Pomelo experience is a bit of a fun adventure because it is different and it’s off the grid, and a lot of people have never stayed in a camper before.”

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