By Connie Romans For The Oklahoman
Published: June 22, 2017 5:00 AM CDT
PAWHUSKA — Ree Drummond said she never once considered opening The Pioneer Woman Mercantile anywhere but here.
“Pawhuska is my home now. It’s where our kids were born. We’re dug in here,” she said.
Her husband’s family has lived in Osage County for generations, and it was on their ranch outside of Pawhuska — 57 miles northwest of Tulsa — that Ann Marie “Ree” Drummond started her now-famous Pioneer Woman blog.
That blog morphed into a popular television show and a series of best-selling cookbooks, and last fall, the mercantile was born — a retail store that includes a bakery, deli and grocery store in the heart of Osage County.
But when Drummond began to hire nearly 200 employees for the mercantile and its warehouse, she realized those new employees would need training, all at the same time.
“Once that sunk in, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘What are we going to do?’” she said.
Tri County Technology Center, she said, came to her rescue.
“They literally swooped in, with their Superman capes on,” she said. “They completely led the whole process of training, of getting the documents ready to hand out to our new employees, coming up with the schedules — I can’t even imagine how we would have done that training if it hadn’t been for CareerTech. I kept looking at them and saying, ‘What’s the catch?’”
Helping to get the mercantile up and running was not a stretch for the CareerTech training center, as it helped Drummond’s business by delivering customer service and safety training.
The school also is considering offering culinary arts training for students who might want to apply for bakery jobs there.
The program’s involvement is special to Drummond because her grandfather, William Smith, was Tri County Tech’s first superintendent and the first superintendent of a technology center in the Oklahoma CareerTech System.
Although she never met her grandfather, Drummond said she feels like he is smiling down at her now.
Tri County Chief of Staff Tiffany Bruce said the mercantile has been a great facility to partner with, and the benefits go both ways.
“We have students who are going to work at the mercantile, so it’s a great avenue for our students,” Bruce said. “They get their training at Tri County Tech, and then they have a pipeline to come use their skills within the workforce. That’s been a great asset for us.”
On the map again
Before the mercantile opened its doors, Pawhuska’s claim to fame might have been that the first Boy Scout troop in the country was organized there in 1909, or that Clark Gable spent time there during the Osage oil boom.
Now, the town gets a serious number of visitors.
Silversmith Bruce Carter came to Pawhuska from Blackwell two years ago in search of a 10-by-10 space for his shop. He settled on a much larger building on Main Street, across from the building that Ree Drummond and her husband, Ladd, were in the process of renovating.
Carter turned his new storefront into the Tallgrass Art Gallery. Life was good, and business was OK, he said. When the Pioneer Woman opened the doors to her mercantile store last October, however, the once sleepy little town of Pawhuska — and Carter’s gallery — sprang to life.
More than 6,000 visitors a day converge on Pawhuska for the Pioneer Woman’s famous cinnamon rolls and chicken-fried steak, and the tiny town is also gaining fame as a destination for culture and arts. The Tallgrass Art Gallery houses 65 artists, and there are three art galleries downtown.
Home to only 3,400 residents, Pawhuska has become a major regional tourist destination.
“We went from being a very small backwater community to being Disney World,” said Carter.
It’s been an overnight transformation for a community that was barely struggling to survive two years ago.
“The momentum was here,” Drummond said. “I did not cause the momentum. I’m causing more people to come to Pawhuska that might not otherwise come, but I know that I’m not the only thing they’re going to see when they come. And that’s very exciting to me.”
Connie Romans is the communications and marketing coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.
The original article can be found online here.