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What do a 100-year-old building that once housed a Masonic temple, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the city of Atoka have in common? Reba McEntire believes in all of them, and they all played a part in making Reba's Place come to life.
"This has been a dream come true," McEntire said Thursday during the official grand opening event. "It has just turned out to be something that — it was way beyond my imagination. I just wish Momma and Daddy were here to see it, they'd love it."
Now open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, Reba's Place, 301 E Court St. in downtown Atoka, brings three stories of country-inspired charm and welcoming warmth. The historic brick facade has been retrofitted with new windows, a fresh awning and a bright red marquee bearing the name.
The first and second floors of Reba's Place include space for dining and drinks, with soaring open ceilings in half of the space to allow the second floor to overlook the stage below. On the third floor is a retail space and library, including a book shelf that may or may not house a secret door that found a fellow journalist accidentally stumbling into a hidden room with McEntire.
Memorabilia ranging from Reba's albums, awards, concert performances and movie posters to iconic outfits from her career line the walls and stand in custom display cases.
McEntire said she originally thought the idea of owning a restaurant was insane, but she's now thankful she allowed herself to be talked into it.
"The atmosphere is wonderful, there's history, there's stories to be told everywhere I look," McEntire said. "I'm a singer, but I love to tell stories."
Intentional sourcing delivers national flavors on a varied menu
McEntire was kept in the decision-making process for the restaurant on all fronts, from choosing the dishware and utensils for table settings to menu choices that combine intentionally sourced ingredients for drinks and food that are worth the drive.
Chef Kurtess Mortensen said the dialogue and bond between he and McEntire is natural and easy, making it obvious that he was meant to come on board.
"It wasn't like 'You write this menu,' it was 'What do you like to eat, what don't you like to eat? What do you like to drink, what don't you like to drink?'" Mortensen said of working to develop a menu that reflects McEntire's vision.
Menu features include flavors that span the country, a nod to Reba's songs, music, career and more. From the Nola BBQ Shrimp to Nashville Hot Chicken and Memphis Style BBQ Bologna, Mortensen does not shy away from bold flavors. Appetizer options include a Southern charcuterie board — complete with beer cheese, pimento cheese and boiled peanut hummus — fried green tomatoes and more.
While McEntire says she let Mortensen shine as he developed the menu of farm-to-table options, she and her boyfriend, Rex Linn, played their own special part in the dishes you'll find.
"When Rex and I would be at home and cooking, I started doing these smashed potatoes and Rex added the garlic and caramelized onions, and I'd send chef pictures of all of the stuff that we'd cook at home," McEntire said. "It was fun!"
Mortensen said as he tested the recipe he would compare his dish to McEntire's photo trying to make sure he pulled off the dish in the way she'd anticipated.
Other sides on the menu include browned butter mashed potatoes, blue corn grits, braised greens, roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole and more. McEntire said it was important to her that the menu include good beans, good cornbread and good iced tea, so you'll find those, as well.
Mortensen, who previously ran the kitchen at another Oklahoma celebrity restaurant — Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska — plans to rotate the menu somewhat seasonally in order to maintain the ability to source the best ingredients from the producers the restaurant has partnered with.
"We make everything from scratch," Mortensen said. "There's no convenience products here at all, and that means there's no processed stuff, there's no chemicals, there's no preservatives."
Cocktails, mocktails, a michelada cart and more await you on the restaurants beverage menu. Spins on classic cocktails named in honor of many of McEntire's hit songs and playful mocktails made using alcohol-free versions of classic spirits mean anyone can enjoy the party at Reba's Place.
Finish your meal with a dessert selection — the strawberry shortcake with chantilly cream is Reba's favorite — that, like everything else on the menu, is made fresh in house.
McEntire has no plans to let anyone down
McEntire said the people in Atoka and their passion make the city special and are the reason she wanted to see the restaurant come to life there — the fact that they wanted her, too, only sealed the deal.
"You can try and do something by yourself all day long and that's hard and it's not any fun, but when you have people that are excited about it — more than I was excited about it — and they kept saying 'It's going to help our town, it's going to help the community, it's going to bring jobs in,'" McEntire said.
The restaurant, which falls within Choctaw Nation boundaries is an evenly split partnership between McEntire and the tribe, with each holding 50% ownership stake.
"To be doing this with the Choctaws, the Choctaws are the best partner. They've been helpful, they've given advice, their opinions, and it's all been 100% positive," McEntires said. "It was just a win-win situation for me."
McEntire said the restaurant "has to carry on" because of all it means to the city and the people there, and she's committed to making sure it is successful.
While Reba resides in Nashville currently and still spends plenty of time on tour and filming, she has plenty of family still living near Atoka, including her three siblings, Alice, Pake and Susie. With them nearby and niece Garett Smith serving as general manager, there's not doubt the family will keep a close eye over Reba's Place.
Thoughtful finishing touches and tender memories
And family is everything to McEntire, who teared up several times while speaking of them. She also laughed as she remarked that her parents would've been "posted up" in a booth all night long, if given the chance.
The third floor houses a generous retail space where you can purchase plenty of Reba-branded items and items that just fit the vibe of the venue.
But, perhaps one of the most heartwarming features is what you'll find nestled in one corner of the third floor among cozy chairs and a floor to ceiling built-in shelf. Stacked on the shelves you'll find the book collection that once belonged to Jacqueline McEntire, Reba's mother. There to be enjoyed by guests, the space holds a truly special place for McEntire and makes the bookmarks tucked into each of those table settings with that dishware selected by McEntire in the restaurant below just a little more significant.
"It's really a special room, and when you walk up there and see it, I hope you feel what I felt," McEntire said.
She patted the seat next to her saying "Momma's up there just kind of going 'Sit down, let's have a seat, grab you a book.'"
Setting the stage for the next great county star?
For the grand opening, McEntire took to the stage and entertained the crowd with favorites spanning her career, offering an example of what the venue's stage might be used for in the future.
The venue will focus on local and regional musicians, bringing guests entertainment during both lunch and dinner from acts across southeast Oklahoma.
"It's really, really special," McEntire said. "It's just got a good vibe about it."
When asked if she thought the next, big Oklahoma star might perform on the stage of Reba's Place, McEntire quipped, "Oh! I hope so. Let's just go for it. Absolutely!"
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Reba's Place opens, bringing food, live music to Atoka, Oklahoma