Small town, big business

If you think your small town is not going to ever be on the map, take a look at Pawhuska, Okla., population, 3,636. This is the town where The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, opened her endeavor called The Mercantile. Ree and her husband, Ladd, purchased a vacant building and worked with a contractor on the renovation.

The success story started back in 1996 when Ree married cattle rancher Ladd, a member of the Drummond family that had been ranching in the area since 1913. They had four children over the next 10 years and Ree was plenty busy cooking for the family, being a ranch wife and homeschooling. She started a blog of her recipes and ranch life in 2006. Since then she has written and had published seven recipe/photo books, including her latest The Pioneer Woman Cooks―Super Easy!: 120 Shortcut Recipes for Dinners, Desserts, and More which will be released on Oct. 19. Her two books on her courtship and early life on the ranch brought readers insight into her personal time. Drummond had written several books about Charlie, the Ranch Dog, “easy readers” for youngsters.

The Merc, as it is called, employs some 165 people and has three distinct sections: the merchandise floor, the upstairs bakery with its large, open floor plan, and the restaurant. The building’s architecture lends itself perfectly to a business based on celebrating the family ranch as it has old wood floors, is spacious and welcoming. If you can’t get there, the Merc offers online sales.

Inspiration for these accomplishments derive from the Drummond Cattle Ranch. It is the focus of her books and her television cooking show on the Food Network, which began in 2011. The latter is filmed at the ranch and features scenes from their everyday life as well as the cooking itself. Drummond’s cookbooks are highly illustrated with her own photography. As she works through each recipe there are photos of each step which is particularly helpful to new cooks and others learning new techniques. The ranch photos are simply spectacular. Drummond shows the manure, the brandings and the common activities of her family around the ranch.

Drummonds opened The Boarding House 18 months after the mercantile. Billed as an eight-room “cowboy luxury” hotel, it is just a few doors down from the Merc. For a change of pace for the palate, another Drummond enterprise is P-town Pizza, which features a wood-fired brick oven and an intriguing menu. It’s not just pizza and beer; varied assortment of wines and signature cocktails are offered.

Educating the public about how beef is raised and how their family workforce is engaged in the ranch work is one of the reasons for Drummond’s success. Her down-to-earth, self-depreciating writing style is folksy yet informative to those not accustomed to ranch life. It is likely that her followers have increased their consumption of products grown by ag producers because of her simple yet varied recipes.

The Merc has her line of cookware, dishes, kitchen linens and other accessories also, along with so much more, including hospitality. It is more than a store — it’s an experience. I’ve been there and am ready to go back.

Peggy Sanders


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