- ABOUT US
At Starla’s Country Café in the tiny town of Hitchita, the Russell family has given a community in need a place to gather.
By SHEILAH BRIGHT
Published March/April 2012
Starla Russell is a sensation in Hitchita, a McIntosh County town located within shouting distance of Lake Eufaula. Every week, she makes seventy-five cinnamon rolls, and Hitchita’s just more than one hundred residents rush to Starla’s Country Café to catch her baked goods before she sells out.
“Cooking big just comes naturally,” says Starla, who has owned the café with her husband, Todd, since 2003. “I learned a lot from my grandmothers. One was Hispanic, and the other was a cafeteria cook, so that’s my cooking heritage.”
That heritage is the inspiration for a morning menu that includes breakfast burritos, cinnamon rolls, and biscuits and gravy. Lunch and dinner feature daily specials like pot roast or baked ham with sweet potatoes on the side. The chili is always homemade, as is the famous burger basket.
Customers linger over their meals, and sometimes a line starts to snake around the building. Starla and Todd also own the adjoining Russell’s Stop-N-Shop, a gas station and bait shop. The Stop-N-Shop had been a Hitchita staple for many years, and when the Russells bought it in 2005, they recognized its importance as a meeting spot.
“There has to be a place where people can go and feel like they’re still part of a town,” says Todd. “It’s why we’re working hard to make this café more like a community center.”
Hitchita residents have come together at Starla’s to weather some tough times. Todd, who serves on the local school board, met here with citizens last year when the board decided to close the town’s only school, Hitchita Elementary.
“It nearly killed me,” he says. “I heard about it every day from our customers and the people I grew up with, but it was a decision that had to be made.”
A few months later, the town learned that its post office also was closing. As community touchstones were shutting down, the Russell family needed Starla’s to succeed more than ever to prove that Hitchita was not dying. To that end, construction of a new fifty-person banquet room will be completed this spring.
The Russells didn’t seek to have the future of Hitchita on their shoulders, but that’s the way things are turning out. In addition to grabbing a hearty, satisfying meal, residents can pay their water bills at Starla’s. Local students even come to the café to catch the bus to their new school, located nearby in Midway.
The Russell family isn’t giving up on their community. They are cooking up a plan—a cinnamon roll-rich, french-fry-crisp, melt-in-your-mouth-biscuits kind of plan—that they hope will get people on the road to Hitchita.
“Nothing would make me happier than to have Hitchita start growing again,” Starla says, pointing to the new banquet room she hopes will bring her community even closer together. “Even if it means making more cinnamon rolls.”
Get There: Starla’s Country Café is located between Checotah and Henryetta on State Highway 266. The Café is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. (918) 466-3400.