‘Sweetie Pie’s’ Star Talks New Memphis Restaurant, Other Business Ventures

by | July 14, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Black Entertainment, Can't Stop Watching, OWN

 

Robbie Montgomery, star of OWN's "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's." (Photo: OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network)

Miss Robbie Montgomery and her son Tim Norman spent the sixth season arguing over where they should expand their restaurant chain. He wanted Houston and she was feeling Memphis. Well, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”  seventh season premiere revealed on Saturday that the St. Louis crew will be headed to the Bluff City. Yep,  Mama knows best! 

What makes this restaurant opening–her fourth location–more special is that it will be the first one outside of St. Louis and will be situated on Memphis’ historic Beale Street–the official home of the blues.

“We never imagined moving to Beale Street. We were prepared to move to Houston and then the Beale Street people came and invited us to go,” Miss Robbie, a former Ikette in Ike and Tina Turner’s Review, says all of the locations will be operated separately. “I’m going to go down there and make sure that it’s taking off and I will be there periodically to make sure that things are running well. It’s just like a child, you never let them go, they just move away from home.”

The first Sweetie Pie’s restaurant opened in St. Louis in 1997. The Memphis location will open this summer. “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” easily became OWN’s highest-rated show soon after its fall 2011 debut, showing nearly double OWN’s then-average primetime viewership. It continues to be a ratings grabber.

Miss Robbie talked with XFINITY about Beale Street’s history, her forthcoming cookbook and other entrepreneurial ventures, how she plans to give back to the youth of St. Louis and what else viewers can expect from the season.

“Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN. Live tweet with the cast at #SweetiePies.

Does it still seem unreal to you that “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” is in its seventh cycle of episodes? 

I cannot believe it. It’s just such a blessing. I’m so thankful because these things usually are so short-term. And to be all the way to the seventh is like a miracle. i’m in awe of it and to be all the way to the seventh… I’m like, am I dreaming?

In addition to what we saw during Saturday’s season premiere, what else can we expect?

We’re a family business so we have the same battles going on every season. Tim and I don’t see eye-to-eye, we’re trying to expand the brand. Tim and Jenae are breaking up. But this season we’re excited because we’re moving to Memphis.

You’re opening a restaurant on Memphis’ historic Beale Street. Please share the significance of this. 

This is something we really feel is an honor because you can’t just go down and move on Beale Street. You have to be invited.  We’re feeling really blessed about this because we were invited to open a restaurant in Memphis on Beale Street. When I was younger, Beale was like a black area. I don’t know how many black businesses are there now but Sweetie Pie’s will be bringing Soul Food back to Beale Street. We’re excited about that.

What impact do you think this will have on your business? 

This is a tourist attraction, the customers are already there and it was a business opportunity that we didn’t want to pass up. I’m sure there’s been a million people trying to get on Beale Street. We were selected so that makes it extra special and you can’t really turn it down because it is a great business opportunity. If your food or product is good then you already got the customers.

This is your fourth restaurant and you’re obviously a veteran but do you get nervous about opening a new spot?

I do, every time. It’s like when you put out a record, you don’t know if it’s going to be a hit or what. So you’re nervous. Every time I do something, I don’t take it for granted. I do a lot of praying all of the time and ask God to guide me. With Him as my partner I can’t go wrong.

Do you have a memory of Beale Street from your days touring as an Ikette?

Like I said that was the black street to do anything on like eating. We all stayed in one black hotel which was the Lorraine Motel [where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated]. Everybody stayed there. We’d sit out and wait for James Brown or whatever band was in there to check out and then we’d check in. When we checked out, the next band that came along would check in.

If you wanted some good food or something you went to Beale Street. That was the only place that you went. And then they had Stax Records later on.  There were a lot of things happening in Memphis. The good shopping was in Memphis during those days. See, I was born in Mississippi and Memphis was like a big city to the South.

One of the perks of reality shows is that you can market and/ or expand your brand. Tell me about some of the cool things you have going on.

We’ve got our iced tea out and it went into 85 stores over the last two weeks, which is a blessing. Without the show, we would not be able to market it and this is something we couldn’t afford to market. I’ve got my cookbook coming out next year during Black History Month.  I’m a new writer and we finished that so we’re just waiting. We don’t have a title yet but it’s going to be something about food, Mississippi style.

I used to be a roller skater and when I was a little kid in Mississippi my aunt used to live next door to a white roller rink and I wasn’t allowed there. But when I moved up to St. Louis, I became a roller skater and I went into the restaurant business. But now I am in the process of trying to open my own skating rink for the kids because they don’t have a lot to do. When I was a kid we roller skated every night, we had community centers and dances. The kids today don’t have anything so I want to go back and do some of those things that I remember from my childhood to give the community something to look forward to. I’ve got one side for adults and one side for kids where the families can come roller skating together. And I’ve got bowling lanes. It’s not a lot but it’s something for them to do to keep them off the streets.  

Sweetie Pie's Sweet Tea (Photo: OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network)

Miss Robbie, that’s very cool. Kudos!

This is something that I’ve been waiting all my life to do but am just getting back to it. That’s a perfect example of how you’re never too old to dream because I didn’t know how I would get back to my childhood dream. I had to go into business to survive and now I’m back to my childhood dream of opening a roller rink. So that’s what I’m working on. Tim doesn’t want me out there skating. He’s like, “You’re 74.” But that’s all right because I enjoy it and that’s what I do. This is my exercise. We’ve got people walking in with canes and they put those canes down and start skating, honey.

The skating rink is going to be in St. Louis. I don’t have a completion date yet. I am working on the Memphis restaurant and the skating rink at the same time. We’re in the process of getting financing and all of that stuff for the skating rink. I’ve got the building, which was one of the largest bowling alleys in St. Louis. In fact, it was one of the first that let black people bowl here, in St. Louis. And they closed and I knew it was my opportunity. It’s like 60,000 square feet. At night I can’t sleep because I’m so hyped up about this roller rink. This is my new energy.

What else can we expect on “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” this season? 

Tim’s bringing all of these new people like office managers to run my company. He thinks I should be taking a break. I’m just sitting back and waiting for them to mess up. That’s our fight. He’s like, “Mama, she’s used to running a bank.” And I’m like, “She ain’t used to do anything but counting money.”