IF you’re familiar with The Pioneer Woman — whether through her blog, cookbooks or her Food Network cooking show — you’re probably aware that she opened The Mercantile last fall in Pawhuska.
The small town located in the heart of Osage County, west of Bartlesville and an hour’s drive north of downtown Tulsa, has experienced a nonstop surge of visitors hoping to get a snapshot with Ree Drummond, known to her fans as The Pioneer Woman. She coined the term from a blog she started years ago chronicling her adventures of living and raising a family on a ranch in Oklahoma.
When Drummond and her husband, Ladd, purchased the historic Osage Mercantile in 2012, there were ideas floating around from the get-go about what to do with the space, but it was slow to start.
“It was my husband’s idea,” Drummond reminisced to the Tulsa World about purchasing the building. “I said, ‘What? You want to do what?’ I hadn’t taken a second look at it. He knew it was something special, and once I got inside, I knew it, too.”
Over the course of four years, the project started with a general store in mind then grew to include more. The first phases of the project included the Drummond Ranch offices, where the day-to-day operations are handled and other family professionals hold offices. At another point, the second floor of the Osage Mercantile was used as a special events venue for private parties while construction continued on the lower level, where the original concept for the general store would be located.
In 2016, construction sped up from a crawl to a sprint, and The Mercantile celebrated its grand opening on Halloween. Travelers came from all over the country to be a part of the opening, to dine at the restaurant, to shop at the general store and to get their cookbooks or other merchandise signed by Drummond.
Though The Mercantile continues to welcome hundreds or thousands of visitors each day; they don’t take a tally of how many people come through the door. The goal is to make sure visitors, many of whom have traveled long distances, have a fun and positive experience, Drummond said.
Despite the long lines to get into the deli and, some days, to get into the general store, guests don’t seem to mind waiting, as long as they can experience Drummond’s project. The deli includes many of the Pioneer Woman’s favorite recipes, including biscuits and gravy, hearty lasagna, chicken enchiladas and chicken-fried steak, and the upstairs bakery has everything you’ll need to satisfy any sweet tooth.
For many of the guests, the visit to The Merc starts with a meal at the deli and then a leisurely stroll through the general store, which boasts a selection of kitchenware, home decor, gifts and other items curated by Drummond and her team.
While The Mercantile also features an online store, there’s nothing quite like seeing it in person and seeing the new selection on the shelves.
“We’re getting new things in regularly and will continue adding new items through the summer. It’s been so interesting to see which items customers are most drawn to,” she said. “The Marie Antoinette salt and pepper set, for instance — who would have thought?”
The popular set features a bust of Marie Antoinette that comes apart at the neck to reveal the two separate shakers. And if you’re not a big fan of cooking, there’s also clothing, accessories, jewelry and even items for the men, including tools, bottle openers and metal Stanley thermoses.
Once visitors are done taking in The Merc, Joni Nash, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, encourages people to spend more time exploring the town.
“The one thing I hear all the time from visitors is, ‘I wish I had planned more time in Pawhuska,’ ” she said.
The small chamber, which operates out of the first home built in Pawhuska in 1872, receives about a dozen calls a day from people planning their visit. They’re often looking for accommodations, dining options and attractions, she said.
Topping Nash’s list of things to see while visiting are the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve, Woolaroc and the town’s landmark Swinging Bridge.
“It’s just three blocks south of The Mercantile,” she said about the bridge built in 1926.
“There’s so much to see in this town.”
Aside from the scenic views of Green Country from the top of the Pawhuska Courthouse stairs, there’s also the Cathedral of the Osage that features stunning stained-glass windows made with the Pope’s approval in Germany before the start of World War I and the Osage Museum that showcases cultural and historical artifacts and artwork.
As The Merc nears its one-year anniversary, Drummond still finds it hard to believe how quickly time has flown.
“I really feel we are hitting our stride. As with any new business — and between the deli, the bakery and the store, it felt like we were launching three businesses at once — the first three months or so is all about tweaking, refining and working out the kinks. It feels so nice to be at a point where we don’t feel like total beginners at everything,” Drummond wrote in a recent email.
Nary a day has passed when there aren’t customers sitting in the deli or carrying a wire shopping basket around the general store filled with souvenirs and gifts to mark the special trip. The bakery upstairs is often a welcome relief for travelers looking for a chance to sit down and enjoy a sweet treat with coffee before heading to their next destination.
Drummond is happy to announce they’re serving up pie — whole or by the slice — starting with pecan and chocolate. But she said there will likely be more added to the menu and bakery throughout summer.
If you plan the trip to Pawhuska for The Mercantile, you might get a chance to see The Pioneer Woman in person.
“I plan to be at the Merc regularly through the summer; I pop in for an hour or two whenever I can,” she said.
You can bet she’ll be signing cookbooks and posing for photos with her biggest fans.