Oklahoma entrepreneur Ree Drummond—you might know her as The Pioneer Woman—has achieved an international following based around her blog on family life, New York Times Best-Selling series of cookbooks, and her popular cooking show on the Food Network, which centers on her family's life on their working Osage County ranch. Drummond's most recent project is the opening of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, 25,000 square feet of homestead hospitality and charm located in her hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The building features a deli/restaurant, bakery, whimsical candy counter, a sizable shopping market of home goods, and of greatest interest to us at Sprudge, not one but two beautifully constructed specialty coffee bars.
The decision to establish specialty coffee—and a flagship for the Pioneer Woman brand—in a rural area of Osage County may seem odd, but Drummond did so in hopes of bringing the town she loves back to life. During Oklahoma’s oil heyday of the early 20th century, Pawhuska was a booming and wealthy place. Once a major client of luxury retailers like Tiffany & Co. and Rolls-Royce, Pawhuska has slowly dwindled down in population and business since the Great Depression.
The Pioneer Woman Mercantile building was originally built and established as the Osage Mercantile in 1910. For many years it sat unoccupied among many other defunct businesses on Main Street Pawhuska, until Drummond and her husband, Ladd Drummond, fell in love with the brick building’s rich history and look. Now, after four-and-a-half years of grueling renovation, the Pioneer Woman Mercantile is open and currently averaging around 6,000 visitors a day, occasionally even swelling to as many as 15,000.
For a local population of only 3,500 residents (and 2,500 roaming buffalo), these numbers are a much-needed sign of economic growth here in Osage County—refreshing as, well, homemade lemonade.
“This is our home, and anything we do here we want it to benefit Pawhuska,” Drummond tells Sprudge. “We also believe in ‘the Merc' itself as a concept, because it has a little bit of everything for everybody. And now that I also have world-class coffee at my fingertips, after living for so long without it—it’s like I won!” she laughs.
Although born and raised near Pawhuska, Drummond lived in Los Angeles for many years before returning to live on her husband’s expansive cattle ranch. Drummond had a rough time adjusting to the absence of good coffee, but that all changed with the opening of two coffee bars within the Mercantile.
“The downstairs coffee bar serves our early morning customers darting in before work, and also our deli and restaurant customers who can order coffee drinks while sitting at their table,” Drummond describes. “And the upstairs is more of a traditional coffee house vibe, where guests can get a drink and go sit on the couch. Plus, I just wasn’t content with one coffee bar, I had to have two!” she says, laughing again.
Each bar has its own aesthetic look. The downstairs cafe is offset by an expansive green Nabisco mural, which began life in this town as an exterior wall advertisement circa the 1920s. The bright yellow powder-coated espresso machine—a three-group La Marzocco Strada AV—and Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro grinder reflect the gold tones in the mural, and help set the scene for the cafe's focus on quality.
Upstairs, the espresso bar has more of an upscale, glam vibe. The two-group La Marzocco Strada AV is fitted with heavy brass portafilter handles, and the entire area is cleanly illuminated by a backsplash of white subway tiles. With a gleaming case of sprinkled pastries and a bright, nostalgic candy counter, the upstairs also evokes the fantastical whimsy of Willy Wonka. Batch brewing in both bars is done on Curtis brewers, and Chemexes and pour-overs are available through the Curtis Gold Cup. Non-espresso grinding is done on Mahlkönig EK 43s. It's enough to make a Sunset Boulevard coffee bar jealous.
In addition to traditional specialty coffee menu offerings, the Merc also features two signature drinks—the Spicy Cowgirl (Drummond’s favorite) and the Cowboy Coffee. The Spicy Cowgirl is an infusion of cold brew, milk, Mexican chile syrup, and Ecuadorian dark chocolate sauce shaken with ice and topped with cold sweet cream, cinnamon, and cayenne. The Cowboy Coffee is a shot in the dark with sarsaparilla syrup, topped with smoked salt and espresso grounds.
All of the coffee at the Mercantile comes from Topeca Coffee Roasters, a local roastery about an hour away in Tulsa. Drummond and Kurtess Mortensen, general manager at The Mercantile, went through an extensive screening process of coffees before selecting Topeca.
“I set up tastings for Ree and I with everyone from very mainstream corporations to smaller roasters,” Mortensen says. “We knew we wanted something great for all that we were doing, and Topeca transcended that in many ways. Plus, they were our neighbors. When you find someone close to you that also happens to be the best in the world, you don’t pass that up.”
“In my opinion, you just don’t get any more knowledgeable than Topeca,” Drummond adds. “We feel like the blends of Brazilian and El Salvadorian coffees we arrived on are perfect for the Merc. They aren’t too exotic or challenging, just beautiful and smooth.”
Drummond reports that reception to specialty coffee within her Pawhuska community has been more than enthusiastic. Samuel Smith, head barista at the Mercantile, also hears a lot of praise coming from both local and national visitors. “The comment we hear most often from Pawhuska residents is ‘I had no idea coffee could taste like this!'” Smith says. “Visitors from bigger cities are equally as surprised to find such a high-caliber coffee program here. A journalist even commented to me once that he had never had such a good cortado.”
Exceptional quality served with warmth and hospitality—that’s the mission at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. From pastries baked with imported Swiss and French butters to great espresso, Drummond and her hardworking staff have established a real gourmet wonderland in rural America.
“Never underestimate small town coffee,” says Ree Drummond. “You never know where you will find the best cup you’ve ever had.”
Tiffany Duncan is a freelance writer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Read more Tiffany Duncan on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Chelsi Fisher.