Country music sensation Reba McEntire became the saving grace for a small town in her home state of Oklahoma.
In late January, Atoka, Oklahoma, celebrated the grand opening of Reba’s Place, “a combination restaurant, bar, live music venue and retail store brought to life by country music superstar Reba McEntire,” the restaurant’s website says.
As of 2021, the small town is home to 3,188 Oklahomans. Sitting right off U.S. Highway 75, which stretches from Texas to Canada, Atoka sees millions of travelers drive past every year. The town was in dire need of something to boost its economy and attract travelers for a pit stop. Reba offered an answer.
According to The New York Times, Reba’s restaurant has brought in half a million guests to Atoka since opening in January. Guests who enter the restaurant are greeted by the comforting smell of southern cooking that includes some of Reba’s personal favorites, such as cornbread, fried green tomatoes and banana pudding.
Reba performed a live concert for the grand opening and stayed around afterward to get to know restaurant guests, take pictures and sign autographs.
“Crowds of McEntire fans — many of them dressed in glittery tops and tasseled jackets to mimic her signature style — lined up outside a stolid three-story brick building whose only trace of glitz was a tall red electric sign reading ‘Reba’s Place.’ The wait time for a table was four hours, the New York Times said of the opening event.
Carol Ervin, economic development director for Atoka, said Reba’s Place was just the thing to turn the city around. For years she had been planning this project and approached Reba with the idea in 2020. McEntire had been back home in Oklahoma with her siblings at the time taking care of her ill mother.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the development of the project has made McEntire feel more connected with her roots.
“I just wish Mama and Daddy were here to see it and love it,” McEntire said in the article.
Angelia Whiddon, a staffer at the restaurant who has lived in Atoka off and on for 50 years, told the Dallas paper, “This is the most exciting thing here that’s happened in quite some time.”
The restaurant interior is decorated with McEntire’s most iconic outfits, the New York Times reported. “Under a soaring ceiling, diners packed into booths made from old church pews and gazed at posters showcasing Ms. McEntire’s albums, movies and shows, which have traded on her friendly, just-plain-folks image.”
Some of McEntire’s biggest fans have hopes to someday see the country star’s own version of “Dollywood,” the Times noted.