Reba, who is one of those few celebrities known mainly by just one name, is undoubtedly a global superstar. Her uberly successful country music career has led her to become known all over the world for her songwriting, and has even allowed for McEntire to venture into acting.
Her self titled sitcom Reba is still one of the best shows to binge and has tremendous re-watch-ability.
Even though the 68-year-old singer seemingly “has it all,” she never once forgot where she came from, which happens to be a small town in Oklahoma called Atoka.
A recent “Hometown Heroes” segment on NBC News showcased a recent business venture that McEntire explored (at some points reluctantly) in her hometown. When she went back to where she was born and raised in 2020 to spend time with her ailing mother, she realized that the town she grew to know and love was ailing as well.
The once bustling main street was deserted, like most small town squares are now, and nearly one in three living within the city limits was living in poverty. The town was also seeing most of their youthful population moving out of the area. Reba knew she wanted to do something to help, but her main focus for the time being was her mother.
Reba described going back to take care of her mom in her final days as:
“I slept with her, we’d cuddle, and I said ‘what am I gonna do when you leave?” She said ‘Oh you’ll be fine.’
She’s always been my rock.”
Once her mother passed away, Reba couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted to do something to honor her late mother. That’s when she struck up a conversation with longtime family friend and Atoka’s economic development director Carol Irvin.
Irvin had been tasked with trying to economically save the small town for quite some time, and knew that one of the best and easiest opportunities would be to partner with McEntire. Reba’s dream for a music space and a place for her mother’s book collection turned out to be a “stars aligning” moment for the pair, who came up with the idea for a Reba themed restaurant.
Reba was open to help in any way she could, but wasn’t sure if the restaurant route was the best way to go, saying:
“I said ‘Absolutely not, I don’t know anything about the restaurant business. I’m not that good of a cook anyway.'”
With McEntire on the fence, Irvin brought in a distinguished investor who had worked in the area before by the name of Gary Batten. Chief of the Choctaw nation, Batten and his tribe had invested millions of dollars in Oklahoma businesses and created thousands of jobs over the years.
The opportunity was brought to him, which he immediately said yes to, and Batten happily split the cost of the renovation of one of the town’s historic buildings with Reba.
Things were full steam ahead from that point on, besides a slight roadblock when Reba was visiting the location and the stairs within the building collapsed and left her stranded on the second floor:
“We were hollering out the windows, I said ‘how are we going to get down?’ They say ‘Oh don’t worry, we are going to call the fire department.”
After years of development, Reba’s Place opened earlier this year, drawing in thousands of visitors to Atoka. Some calculations estimate that as many as 60,000 people came into the town and the restaurant in the Reba’s Place’s first five months.
Reba was heavily involved in the design process, even hand picking the plates the restaurant would use, giving the go ahead on merchandise and even donating memorabilia. McEntire also found a home for her mom’s expansive book collection into the restaurant, giving it that homely touch and a special connection to the establishment.
The restaurant alone created 130 jobs, with most of them being filled by the town’s young generation. Reba stated:
“There are kids working here, that, some of them have never worked in a restaurant before. So they’re learning, they’re learning a trade and a craft, and that’s very important.”
And a byproduct of Reba’s Place’s success is that a lot of money that is earned is going back into the Atoka community. Businesses are popping back up in what was a “ghost town” only three years ago, with plans to even bring a massive bitcoin mining data center and 120 room hotel to the surrounding area.
Though the restaurant has Reba’s name on it, she knows that she doesn’t deserve all the credit for the town’s much needed restoration:
“Well I want them to take away that Reba was a small part of a great story. A successful story.
One that’s still growing, one that’s still thriving, and one that’s talked about all over the state of Oklahoma.”