By// Avis Weathersbee
If you’ve been holding your breath — or perhaps, licking your lips — in anticipation of the next installment of Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, the wait is just about over. The Fall 2012 season of the popular reality show that follows the fast-paced and usually funny world of a St. Louis soul food restaurant bows Saturday night on OWN.
The show, which launched amid higher-profile reality series with established stars, quickly established itself as a bona fide hit. Sweetie Pie’s, owned and run by Miss Robbie Montgomery with her son Tim Norman, became a destination for countless households via the weekly episodes.
We spoke with Miss Robbie earlier today, on the eve of the new season, for some tasty tidbits about the show and the cast of characters that have captured the public’s fancy. She credits Tim with coming up with the idea for the show, which started for her as a way to garner publicity for her restaurant.
It did. In fact, the success of the show has increased her business “300 fold,” she says. “People come in from all over the world to eat at Sweetie Pie’s, the response is uplifting.”
And Miss Robbie, who once was a background singer with the Ike & Tina Turner Review before a collapsed lung closed that chapter of her life, has become a sterling example of starting over and creating new opportunities. “A lot of people say they were like 50 and were going to give up, but that I inspired them,” she says. Does she always get those props at home? Not so much…
“My son thinks I’m crazy,” she laughs. That’s why he suggested that the day-to-day drama of the business would make perfect fodder for a reality show. So he set out to prove his point. People discouraged him, questioning whether showing Black people in the kitchen would be a turn-off for some, Miss Robbie notes. But he persevered, got the show produced — and, we might add, drew first blood in their amusing, ongoing “I told you so” battle.
Of course, this push-and-pull between mother and son — always served with a generous helping of love and affection — is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show. Whether it’s a clash of ideas over how the existing locations should be run; over plans for the new, mega location; or over how to balance their personal and professional lives, there’s always room for a little family feuding.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Leave that boy alone, you got a good son; wish I had one like him,’” Miss Robbie says. “I say, ‘Take him,’” she laughs. On the other hand, she notes that Tim often gets the feedback: “You need to listen to your mama.”
With her new, dream restaurant, the Upper Crust, opening this season and Tim bent on seeing that the Mangrove location he manages doesn’t lose customers to the fancier establishment, expect the son v. mama drama to continue. It begins, Miss Robbie says, when Tim starts telling inquisitive customers that the new place, which had a soft opening at the end of May, isn’t up-and-running yet. Meanwhile, Miss Robbie counters by dressing nephew Lil’ Charles up in a chicken suit and stationing him outside Mangrove to promote Upper Crust. Tim’s next gambit? We won’t spoil it for you… You’ll just have to tune in to find out.
Here are some other questions we put to Miss Robbie about the new season:
How’s TJ? (Miss Robbie’s grandson, who was premature, is doing fine.) Fans always want to know about the baby, she says. “They ask about TJ and say they prayed with me.”
Does Lil’ Charles become more responsible? (Would we disappoint you by saying, yes? Not to worry. The lovable screw up will continue to, well… screw up.) “No ma’am,” Miss Robbie responds to our query. “He’s a student one day, bartender the next, then he calls himself a fish whisperer! All the fish in the tank die,” she laughs.
Will there be a wedding? (Tim and fiancée Jenae wound up postponing their wedding last season — and he didn’t seem too bummed about it.) “I don’t know,” Miss Robbie says. “We’re hoping. Tim thought he could propose to her and wait 20 years for the wedding, but Jenae took off and running.”
Will there be a cookbook? (People love Sweetie Pie’s mac-n-cheese, peach cobbler, etc.) “Tim has been on that mission for a year,” she says. She’s letting him run with it for now, meanwhile she’s moving forward with her idea of teaching soul food cooking classes at the Upper Crust. It’s important she notes, “Because soul food is a dying art. The younger folk come in and say, ‘I haven’t had that since my grandmother died and my mom doesn’t cook.’ Many of them don’t know how to cook or prepare it.” She says some of those younger customers tell her, “I’ve never had greens, I’ve never had smothered pork chops.”
How is your grandson, Andre, adjusting? (His late father fell victim to street violence and high-school student Andre moved to St. Louis to escape negative influences and to get his life on track.) “He’s still struggling in school,” Miss Robbie says. “We put him into a different type of program where he can get more one-on-one help. He’s embarrassed about it, but we’re trying to let him know that we’re his family and we’re here to support him.”
Family, that’s what brings people back to Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.
The season premiere of Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s airs Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at 9 p.m. ET on OWN. Check out the first five minutes of the episode below: