Ree Drummond — best known as the Food Network’s Pioneer Woman — has a lot on her plate, figuratively and literally.
With a wildly popular lifestyle blog, 3 cookbooks, 3 children’s books, a cooking show, and a homeware line at Walmart, it’s hard to imagine how the mother-of-four could have time for another major project — but with her newly opened store and cafe, The Mercantile, she’s gone all in.
“It’s very exciting, and honestly a little surreal,” Drummond tells PEOPLE of her latest endeavor. “I’ve never actually opened the doors of a business, so it’s totally new territory for me.”
Fans of her show are certainly familiar with “The Merc,” as she calls it. Drummond has been documenting the renovation process of the over 100-year-old space since she and her husband, Ladd, bought it in 2012. The building, located in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was first opened as the Osage Mercantile in 1910, but had been abandoned for 30 years when the couple bought it.
Though she says they “didn’t have a huge plan for it” when they bought it, it slowly morphed into a multipurpose space complete with a cafe, deli, and retail store.
Of course, when it came to planning, food was at the top of her priority list — and she felt the pressure to make it perfect. “Whenever I put a recipe on my show or in my cookbook I want it to be absolutely wonderful,” she says. “When I envision putting a plate of my food in front of a customer or guest, it really takes it to a whole other level because I want them to feel like their trip here was worth it.”
“The only way I handle stress is I do my best to make sure it’s going to live up to expectations,” she continues. “I really believe in this project. It’s part of our souls at this point.”
As for whether her busy lifestyle has cut into her time at home on the ranch, Drummond tries to keep the balance. “As much as possible, I do hang on to the home cooking and at least make sure there’s a casserole or two in the freezer and soup ready to go. I feel like if I stop that, what’s the point? That’s who I am.” Still, she admits with a laugh: “That said, Subway really loves me these days.”