Until the last year or so, Reba McEntire never had any intention of opening a restaurant. The fire-haired country music superstar, actress, author, and lifestyle mogul has plenty on her plate — she’s starring in a movie this year, going out on tour, and writing a new book — and didn’t think getting into the hospitality industry was worth the trouble. But now, it’s 11 a.m. on a Monday, and I’m one of many out-of-town folks who’ve crowded into the foyer at Reba’s Place, McEntire’s new restaurant in Atoka, Oklahoma, just a short drive away from the Chockie cattle ranch where she grew up.
“Reba’s Place wasn’t my idea, to say the least,” McEntire told Eater. “The city council came to me and asked if I would like to do a restaurant in Atoka, and I said no. Restaurants are tough. It’s hard to get one off the ground, and it’s hard to make a living.” But after seeing the enthusiasm from Atoka officials, who insisted that Reba’s Place could bring tourism dollars and jobs to the sleepy town of 3,188 located off Highway 69, McEntire decided to say yes. The result: a three-story restaurant that opened January 26, complete with a stage for live music, an upstairs lounge stocked with books from her mother’s library, and a shop slinging Reba’s Place T-shirts, among other merch. The menu is pure Southern comfort, laden with deep-fried pickles and locally raised beef, including a staggering tomahawk steak big enough to feed six people. “It’s the best steak I’ve ever had,” McEntire says.
McEntire’s business partner in the project is the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which operates a number of businesses in the state, including restaurants and casinos. The Nation collaborated with McEntire on the menu and design, and holds weekly meetings with the star to keep Reba’s Place running smoothly.
The renovation of a 100-year-old Masonic lodge into a restaurant was, in McEntire’s words, interesting. The building was in bad shape, a total gut job filled with bird poop, with some structural issues on the third floor that created a dramatic scene where McEntire had to be evacuated out of a second-floor window after a flight of stairs she was about to walk down completely collapsed. “It was pretty scary,” she says. “I wanted to get to go down one of those big inflatable slides, but the fire department just brought the ladder. After that happened, you better believe I said that those were going to be the best, most well-made stairs in the whole United States after we got through with this place.”
The menu itself is mostly Southern standards, many of which have a personal connection to McEntire. There’s her Mama’s pimento cheese sandwich, soft bread slathered thick with the South’s favorite cheesy spread and a layer of Miracle Whip, and Mama’s favorite cocktail — Seagram’s gin with 7-Up. “My contribution to the menu was the pinto beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. I love beans, I grew up on beans,” McEntire says. A rancher’s daughter, McEntire ensured that the menu had a solid selection of steaks. And of course, there’s the Red Head ‘Rita, an homage to the boss lady herself that’s spiked with Ancho Reyes liqueur. I ordered one: When in Atoka, do as Reba tells you.
McEntire won’t oversee the day-to-day at Reba’s Place; she plans to pop in regularly to keep tabs on the restaurant. But she’s a woman who fundamentally understands the notion of hospitality, even as a first-time restaurateur. According to McEntire, a baker shows up at 4 a.m. daily to prepare the offerings in the restaurant’s complimentary bread basket, which is stuffed with tiny loaves of banana bread, green chile cornbread, and apple-ginger muffins. The restaurant sources the beef for its burgers and steaks from nearby cattle ranches operated by the Choctaw Nation. Everything is cozy, not pretentious or exclusionary; inside, the 250-seat space somehow feels intimate.
The past few years have seen no shortage of country music stars opening up their own restaurants. Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, and Justin Timberlake all own establishments in Nashville, and more are on the way. But what separates Reba’s Place from those sprawling, soulless bars packed with drunk tourists is its quiet setting in Atoka’s downtown. The space feels appropriately Reba, with cowhide rugs and rhinestone-smattered costumes from her many tours and starring role in Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun. “We’ve got pictures up in there that I hadn’t seen in years. We’ve got the ‘Fancy’ dresses,” she says, referring to her seminal 1991 cover of the Bobbie Gentry song. “I’m a pack rat. I keep everything — memorabilia, costumes, you name it. We’ve got my outfit from Tremors that we’ll be putting in there soon. Just like the menu, we’ll change out the memorabilia so that when people come back to see us, they’ll see new things.”
Even though Reba herself recommends the tomahawk, I didn’t have six people to split it with or 150 bucks to spend on a hunk of meat. But I couldn’t resist the delightfully punny “Fancy” steak dinner: a plate of Choctaw Ranch filet medallions served with super-smoky mushroom ragout and a few grilled shrimp. It did, in fact, look fancy, and was artfully garnished with a little stack of grilled onions and a sprig of rosemary. It might not have been riding on the cutting edge of modern cuisine, but it was a damn good steak, and that’s really all it needed to be.
If the restaurant is successful in the way that other celebrity-branded establishments have been, including Oklahoma spots like Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, Reba’s Place could be economically transformative for Atoka. After it opened in 2017 in the similarly sized Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Pioneer Woman Mercantile created more than 175 new jobs for locals, the town’s sales tax revenue doubled, and more than 20 new businesses opened. Atoka’s local officials are not shy about comparing Reba to Ree, aspiring to a similar tourism boom: A recent news report cited the potential for $37 million a year in economic impact. City officials note that unlike Pawhuska, Atoka sits just 126 miles away from Dallas, and right off a major thoroughfare: “8 million vehicles” pass through the town annually, Carol Ervin of the Atoka City Industrial Development Authority told Tulsa World. “We just need a reason for them to stop. Reba’s Place will provide that reason.”
After my lunch, I of course hit the merch shop, then spent a little time walking around Atoka’s downtown, popping into some boutiques selling T-shirts — at least a few of which were styled like campaign tees, emblazoned with “Dolly/Reba 2024.” The city center doesn’t exactly have the feel of a tourist destination, at least not yet, and that’s a good thing. Two months in, Reba’s Place seems like somewhere to go to feel a little bit closer to a country superstar, or to simply enjoy a plate of chicken fried steak and pinto beans, and come out equally happy. As I pulled out of town to make the two-hour drive back to Dallas, I had only one regret: that I hadn’t had the good sense to order the strawberry shortcake. It’s Reba’s favorite dessert, and now more than ever before, I trust the discerning tastes of the Queen of Country without hesitation.