Recently, Rolling Out had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Robbie Montgomery of “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.” After nearly 40 years as a background singer for hitmakers including the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Pattie LaBelle and the Rolling Stones, Montgomery opened Miss Sweetie Pie’s, a soul food restaurant, in her hometown, St. Louis, MO. More than a decade later, Miss Sweetie Pie’s is a nationally acclaimed soul food chain and the focus of OWN’s hit reality series “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.” Montgomery agreed to tell us her story.
Check out her interview below and be sure to tune into season 6 of “Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s” beginning March 15 at 9 PM ET/PT on OWN. – ruthie hawkins/@ruubabie
What made you want to do reality TV?
Well actually, I didn’t want to do it. My knucklehead son wanted to do the show and he kind of convinced me to do it. I try to let the kids have a little roll, so that’s how this got started. It was Tim’s idea. He thought it would be funny and for once he’s right, so I’d have to give him the credit.
What inspired you to dive into the restaurant business?
Well, I was a professional singer for like 40 years and I developed a lung problem so I had to stop singing, then I was like well what should I do next? My mother was an excellent cook. I knew how to cook. Everyone would say that my food taste great every time I cooked, so that was the direction I went.
I got a job in between doing dialysis and I received a salary cap on that, so I had to find something else to do. I knew that I could cook, so that’s where I went. When mom teaches you something, you never know when you have to use it and that applied here.
Are all of the meals prepared at Sweetie Pie’s family recipes?
All of the recipes I use are family recipes, or friends. Some of them are even recipes that I’ve picked up during my traveling with the Ikettes.
You know, when we were out there singing, everything was segregated so we had to prepare our own meals in the hotel room. So some of these [recipes] came from experience.
With your business being run mostly by family, have you found that you have had to rule with a stronger thumb? Do you have a specific management style?
Yes, absolutely! Seeing as it is a family business, you have to rule with a stronger thumb because family, not all of the family but some can stray from the assignment at hand. I have to keep an eye on Charles sometimes, but Tim… Tim is good. He is the one who needs an unlimited budget because everyday he comes up with a new idea.
Other than that, it is a security having your family there because you feel like someone will always have your back.
But on the other end, some people think that you can’t fire family. But I will. I will fire my family members if need be. They have to be about the business. This is something that I am trying to build as a legacy for them to carry on after I am gone, so I’m laying down the law while I’m here.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business woman, especially when it comes to the expansion of your empire?
The biggest challenge has been trying to please my son because every week, he wants to move to a different location. We fight all the time about where we should go. Should it be Houston? Should it be Los Angeles? Should it be New York?
I mean, he’s off on this rampage about moving and expanding; which I want him to do, but we have to be in agreeance with everything.
Have you decided on your next location?
No we have not. We are still fighting about that. He thinks it should be Houston and I think it should be LA. So we’re in the middle of that debate right now. I mean I hate to say it but I hope I win.
What is a typical day at Miss Sweetie Pie’s?
A typical day at Miss Sweetie Pie’s is that I get up, I make a mental list of all the things that need to be done on that day. I call to make sure that everything is okay before I get there. I do whatever errands need to be run whether they need bread or change, I stop by and get it. I just try to fill in wherever there is a need.
Taking pictures with the customers is also a typical part of our day at Miss Sweetie Pie’s. I really want to make sure that I thank them for coming by. Sometimes I put in 10-12 hours a day. Tim tries to get me to relax a little bit but this is my business and I’m the type of person that feels like no one can do it better than me.
I understand that you are coming out with a cookbook. Will your viewers/customers have access to the recipes used at Miss Sweetie Pie’s?
Yes. Most of the recipes are meals that we serve at the restaurant. Family recipes like black eyed peas, chicken wings, one of our most popular dishes, macaroni and cheese, pear cobbler, etc. I am also doing some healthy things with the cookbook. most people think that because it’s soul food that it has to be unhealthy but it doesn’t have to be. I’ll be able to show people how to fix their favorite soul food dish in a healthy way.
You can expect a little bit of everything from grand mama to my mama to your mama to your grand mama’s recipes. Dishes that kids nowadays have never heard before like beef cakes and butter rolls and things that aren’t really around anymore.
Tell us a little bit about the training and opportunity you and Miss Sweetie Pie’s provides men and women in need as well as those who have been incarcerated?
Well, my son Tim was incarcerated for 10 years and actually, that is one of the reasons I opened the restaurant in the first place. You know, when being incarcerated as a black person, I know that there aren’t many opportunities once they come home so I decided to open Miss Sweetie’s so that my child would have an opportunity when he came home.
And then while listening through all the years I was visiting my son and seeing how many of the inmates don’t have families, they don’t have support — I decided then, that I would help out because they need a second chance. That’s my motto. Everyone needs a second chance.
They have to fit the bill though. I’m not going to give them a second chance because they have been incarcerated. Some of them have experience working as cooks in the facilities so when they come home and I hear their story and I believe them, I give them a chance.
Now, all of them don’t work out. Some of them just need something to tell their P.O. But I’m street wise too, so I know the difference.
But I really do take joy out of giving people second chances, whether they’re inmates, homeless persons — I go around and speak at the shelters — because I understand that tomorrow isn’t promised. Anything can happen and if someone is trying to change, I tell them, well when can you start. Many of them answer, “I can start today,” and I tell them, “Well come in tomorrow.”
What can viewers expect this season on “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”?
On the upcoming season, you can expect Tim and I still fighting on where we go next, Houston or LA. So we are going backwards and forwards with that. We have a family crisis. Charles is taking acting lessons. We have a lot of good stuff going on. You just have to tune in and see!