PAWHUSKA, Okla. — Growing up in an Oklahoma town she considered too tiny, Ree Drummond sought the bright lights of a city and headed west for Los Angeles.
She never dreamed the journey would send her back to the plains of northeast Oklahoma, to a place with even fewer lights where she's become known and built a brand as "The Pioneer Woman."
Visitors from all 50 states, Canada, South America and England have come to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, a store-bakery-restaurant she and her husband opened after starting a popular blog, then writing New York Times
Recent blog entries covered everything from taking her homeschooled children to see the musical "Hamilton" on Broadway to finally finishing the TV show "Breaking Bad" and a forthcoming cookbook. Sony Pictures holds an option for a possible movie on her book "Black Heels to Tractor Wheels," in which she recounts how she met her husband, who isn't a smoker but whom she often calls "Marlboro Man.
"I think people are drawn to 'The Pioneer Woman,' not because I am some fascinating person, but because I present things that a lot of people can relate to," a self-effacing Drummond said in an interview with The Associated Press at the store, a retail and restaurant location she and her husband opened in October. "I'm not a chef, and I'm not an expert at anything. I'm just a mom and a wife."
Drummond grew up the daughter of a surgeon in Bartlesville, a town of about 36,000 people about 20 miles (32
Her plans took a detour when she stopped for a visit in Bartlesville where she joined some friends at a bar and met "a cowboy wearing Wranglers." She went on to marry him in 1996, and never made it to the Windy City.
The cowboy, Ladd Drummond, is part of a prominent family that operates a more than 400,000-acre (162,000-hectare) cattle ranch in Osage County, about 7 miles (11
"It was, kind of just, love that got me out here, and then after we got married I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what have I done?' You know, 'Where am I, and this is real. I live in the country,'" Ree Drummond said. "If I had sat down and tried to plan an empire there's no way, no way any of this would have happened."
It's paying off for her and, town leaders hope, Pawhuska.
About 150 miles (240
Pawhuska City Manager Mike McCartney said he hopes to see an increase in the town's "less than 50" motel rooms with plans to renovate a five-story building across the street from The Mercantile into a hotel. Many visitors stay in nearby Bartlesville or Ponca City, he said.
Outside The Mercantile, drivers stop on Main Street to allow pedestrians to cross. On a sweltering June morning, as temperatures approached 90 degrees (32 Celsius), a line of people about 200 feet (60
"If it's as good as all of her food that she cooks on her show" it will be worth the wait, said Laura Burton, 67, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Kelli Linch, 52, of Rea, Missouri, drove more than five hours to eat at The Mercantile. She eventually opted for a takeout order.
Linch said there are many things she admires about Drummond, including that she often speaks on her show about her church and her family.
"I like that she's simple, and just a Plain Jane kind of gal," Linch said.