Ole Red
The upcoming grand opening of country star Blake Shelton's Ole Red bar and restaurant has spurred tourism and local business in Tishomingo recently. (Tiara Blue)

TISHOMINGO, Okla. — For the past month on Twitter, Blake Shelton, country music star and judge of The Voice, has teased fans with images and hints of his two latest ventures.

First, there were the images of Lucky Charms cookies and spicy chicken:

Next, a Bloody Mary loaded with olives, pickled okra and beef jerky from his new bar and grill appeared:

Then, last week, he (awkwardly) tweeted the square mileage and coordinate points of a local destination before announcing the title of his latest album, Texoma Shore:

Both are familiar to the people of Tishomingo. Lake Texoma, an hour’s drive south, is a frequented destination where locals spend summers fishing and swimming.

It seems only fitting that the lifelong Oklahoma resident born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma, has released an album title that pays homage to his roots. The album’s Nov. 3 release will follow the grand opening of an Opry-style restaurant and music hall Saturday in Shelton’s adopted hometown of Tishomingo, part of a $20 million investment with Ryman Hospitality, a publicly traded real estate investment trust based out of Nashville.

Gone is the pink and white candy-striped awning of country star Miranda Lambert’s original Pink Pistol boutique, a defining element of downtown Main Street just two years ago.

In its place, a sprawling, decidedly more masculine structure, red and white with a striking mural of a bloodhound, a tribute to Ol’ Red, one of Shelton’s biggest hits.

Ole Red state of mind

Ole Red
A mural on the side of the Ole Red venue, bar and restaurant depicts the establishments namesake in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. (Tiara Blue)

Shelton described Ole Red as “a state of mind” in an April 4 interview with The Ada News.

Ole Red grand opening events this weekend

Blake Shelton will kick off Ole Red’s grand opening festivities at 8 p.m. Friday with a small, sold-out concert on the Tishomingo Ole Red stage. Proceeds will benefit local charity Johnston County Reaching Out, which helps family members of residents fighting cancer. On Saturday, Ole Red will continue its grand opening celebration with a free Opry-style performance and block party on Main Street.

“When you go in, it will be about our lifestyle,” Shelton told the newspaper. “Our lifestyle here in Tishomingo. We are not trying to make this into anything other than just celebrating who we are here as Oklahomans.”

In addition to food and drink, Shelton explained that he wanted music to be an important element, quipping, “I know a guy who can get in there and sing every once and a while if we can’t find anybody.”

The venue has been operating in a sort of soft opening phase since early September.

Business development follows ‘excitement in the air’

The restaurant/music venue occupies a building that once held the office of local dentist Randy J. Ryan, and two of the former dentistry’s signs grace the hallways. Ole Red’s gift shop is located adjacent to the restaurant in the former Pink Pistol building.

“The future looks bright for Tishomingo, and Blake Shelton is a huge reason for that upward growth,” said Seigel Paul Heffington, owner and broker of Heffington Realty, in an interview with NonDoc. “We can’t thank him enough.”

As the grand opening approaches on Saturday, Lisa Rose, Tishomingo Merchant’s Association founder and owner of the town’s high-end luxury spa, Spa211, has noticed a change in pace along the historic downtown.

“I can definitely see a huge influx of Main Street traffic on the weekends and during the week as well,” Rose said.

Vicki Harbert, Cedar Stone Bed and Breakfast owner, said calls have shot up.

“I used to get a couple calls a week to book a getaway,” Harbert said. “Since the announcement of the [Ole Red] block party, we’ve been getting several calls a day. [We were] booked several weeks ago for September 29 and 30.”

In addition to new tourists, the town is experiencing a burst of development from local merchants.

Jordyn Naugle, the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce administrative assistant, confirms an influx of new businesses, impressive for a community of 3,000 people. According to NonDoc’s count, seven businesses have opened in Tishomingo in the past three to four months: boutiques like Stepp West, Kedford Co., and Sunshine Boutique; antique and refurbished furniture shops, Elizabeth’s Antiques and Junk Stars; the Wildflower event venue; and War Pigs sporting goods store.

Blake Shelton
The frontage of Stepp West, a boutique Western decor outlet, features lively decorations intended to attract customers and liven up Main Street. (Tiara Blue)

Rose confirmed construction for an additional business: a two-story, six-guestroom bed and breakfast. Construction is set to begin next month. The business name and location will be announced at a later date.

Brenda Rowe, owner and broker of Brenda Rowe Realty, credits interest in Tishomingo – by merchants and consumers – not only to Ole Red but also to the town’s long-standing history and culture.

“There’s definitely excitement in the air,” Rowe said. “Of course, a lot of it is due to Blake Shelton and the new Ole Red restaurant. But then again, there’s always been an enthusiasm here because of the Chickasaw Nation and the love they have for this town. We’re the capitol of the Chickasaw Nation, and the hometown of Governor Bill Anoatubby.”

Chickasaw Nation buffers ‘economic hiccup’ of Pink Pistol’s closing

It’s these roots that Shelton and fellow The Voice judge Gwen Stefani, along with her three children, Kingston, 11, Zuma, 8, and Apollo, 3, explored during a visit at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in July.

During their visit, they were immersed in Chickasaw culture. The Cultural Center, located in Sulphur, Oklahoma, provided demonstrations of stickball games, archery and cooking lessons, which Stefani shared on Instagram.

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Heffington said the Chickasaw Nation’s investments in Tishomingo helped the small town buffer the “retail blow” of The Pink Pistol closing.

In addition to the $7.5 million, 10,700-square-foot Chickasaw Nation Information Center built on Main Street, the Chickasaw Nation is continuing its long-range plans for Tishomingo, including construction of a new hotel and casino, Heffington said.

“Overall, I would say [the closing of The Pink Pistol] was just an economic hiccup,” Heffington said.

Commercial real estate along Main Street has steadily increased with several buildings changing hands in the private sector, according to Rowe and Heffington.

“Land for sale is pretty hard to come by,” Harbert said. “People are starting to realize what hidden gems we have in Johnston County.”

‘Community pride’ powers local merchants through ‘the gap’

After nearly three years of national publicity and a consistent rotation of visitors, traffic on Main Street slowed considerably in the year and a half between the closing of The Pink Pistol and the development of Ole Red, a time locals refer to as “the gap.”

“The days of hustle and bustle on Main Street and throughout Johnston County came to an abrupt halt, which is such a shame because this county has so much to offer beyond Main Street,” Rose said.

Rose said “community pride” kept businesses going.

“The last year or so has brought more of a ‘shop local’ [and a] ‘support your home town\community’ movement,” Rose said. “It seems that many [residents] have been doing their best to help the businesses hang on. In most cases, it was barely enough, but it has given business owners the encouragement to believe that things will get better.”

Now the town evolves yet again, adapting to its ever-changing customer base.

“As long as we in Tishomingo continue to keep our red carpet out for the tourists that visit Ole Red, it will be a plus for Tishomingo merchants,” Cindy Matheny, Tishomingo’s Landmark Bank President and Johnston County Industrial Authority (JCIA) Chairman, said. “A plus for the merchants means more sales tax for the city and county to make improvements with. It’s a win-win.”

Although many have credited Tishomingo’s revival on first Lambert’s businesses and more recently upon Shelton’s investment in Ole Red, efforts of local merchants and community leaders often go overlooked.

For instance, JCIA has hosted a business frontage/site improvement program for several years, which provides annual grants to local businesses to improve their store frontage. During a two-week window in June, businesses can apply for up to a $5,000 grant to improve store frontage. If half of the grant is repaid within a year, the other half is forgiven with the half paid deemed interest-free.

Matheny said although participation has decreased from previous years, the program still provided funding to three out of four applying businesses this year.

‘A second chance’

At any rate, local merchants are grateful the town’s most famous resident decided to invest in Tishomingo and unveil his dream of Ole Red right on Main Street.

“I’ve had people tell me in the past that Tishomingo is a well-kept secret,” Matheny said. “[It’s like] we are getting a second chance to put our best foot forward and show all of our many other ‘secret’ assets.”

Among those assets, locals are quick to herald the community’s natural beauty (places like the Wildlife Refuge, Pennington Creek and Blue River’s public fishing and hunting area).

The area’s historical buildings are also noted. The Chickasaw Capitol Museum (formerly the Chickasaw Courthouse) and the Chickasaw Bank Museum were built from pink granite excavated from nearby Pennington Creek in the early 1900s. The Chickasaw White House, home to Chickasaw Gov. Douglas Henry Johnston in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is preserved and maintained in nearby Milburn.

The area is also home to popular attractions like Sipokni West, a restaurant located inside an Old West film set that has appeared in several movies and documentaries.

Baker Acres Pumpkin Patch, a family-owned farm with a petting zoo, corn maze, hay rides and locally-grown pumpkins, is also a popular destination, drawing visitors from across the state.

“[Five years ago], Tishomingo was in the midst of a revival,” Rose said. “Miranda saw that and the potential it had to expand her brand. Blake, too, saw Miranda’s businesses provide this town an extra boost towards that revival. He also saw the hole it left when she moved on.”

Rose credits Shelton’s business savvy and his “good ol’ boy” nature to Ole Red’s inception. Most of all, she credits his ties to the community.

Rowe agrees.

“I feel Blake has a connection to Tishomingo and cares about our future,” Rowe said. “This is his refuge. The place where he spends time with his family and friends. This is home.”