By Darlene Donloe
The fourth season of OWN’s popular reality show, Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s, is set to debut Saturday, Nov. 19.
Once again, Miss Robbie, her son, Tim, Charles and the rest of the gang, are back with workplace anguish and family drama, sprinkled with moments of levity and lots of reality.
The series is about how Robbie Montgomery (Miss Robbie), who in the 1960’s was a backup singer and former Ikette. When her lung collapsed, she had to hustle to keep her family afloat, so she whipped out her mother’s recipes and turned her second love—cooking, into a soul food empire. Today, with five locations and counting across St. Louis and Los Angeles, Miss Robbie and her son Tim are hoping to expand their brand.
In the season opener Miss Robbie, the owner and creator of Sweetie Pie’s, not only is still at odds with her son, Tim, about the number of restaurants he’s planning on opening, she’s reeling after the murder of her grandson, Andre Montgomery, who was killed in St. Louis after moving there two weeks earlier. His killer has yet to be brought to justice. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the family has had to deal with that kind of tragedy. They speak openly about some of the family’s other tragedies.
On upcoming episodes, Tim revisits the prison where he was incarcerated for 10 years, and Miss Robbie joins him “behind the wall” to witness first-hand the shocking reality her son experienced at the young age of 17. Tim speaks openly about his 10-year stint in prison that started at the age of 17. He talked about touring the now closed Missouri prison and what it felt like to be a resident there. It was the first time Miss Robbie had seen the conditions in which her son lived for a decade.
Of course, Miss Robbie and Tim are still at odds when it comes to expanding the Sweetie Pie’s brand. After 30 years, Miss Robbie revives her music career, this time doing it her way with exciting opportunities on the horizon.
“Your past does not dictate your future.” – Tim
In the spirit of the holiday season, Miss Robbie and Tim are giving back. More than 400 lbs. of can goods were collected on their behalf - to be given to a local food bank.
I recently caught up with Miss Robbie (MR) and Tim at OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) in Hollywood, to talk about the upcoming season, how they are dealing with their grief and the expansion of the brand.
Q: Tim, you are very focused about opening a lot of restaurants. Is there a fear of over saturating the market?
TIM: My mom and I, we have an argument going on right now. She thinks enough is enough. In St. Louis we over saturated the market. I was trying to have a Sweetie Pie’s on every corner in St. Louis. We have two in L.A. and maybe another one. My goal for this is for us to be the first national black food chain. Chinese and Mexican restaurants have national chains. Everybody except African Americans have a food chain. I question why? I believe it can be done and I believe we can be the ones to do it.
Q: Tim, you mentioned how you like to help men who come out of the prison system. Can you talk about something you do to help guys coming out?
TIM: Before I went to prison there wasn't a restaurant. When I came home 10 years later mom had this restaurant. It wasn’t in my plan to work in the family business. I look for a job. I couldn’t find a job. I went to the restaurant and poured myself into it. A guy came home out of prison and needed a job. I told mom we should give him a shot. We [Sweetie Pie’s] became a rest haven. The word got out that Sweetie Pie’s would give you a shot. It's a shame that you can tell somebody they are not good enough to wash a dish because they have a past. They have that felony hanging over them. But, that’s how it is today. Sweetie Pie’s is a support system for the underdog.
Q: Miss Robbie, would you like to add something?
MR: When I visited Tim there were a lot of guys who didn't even have a visitor. No one would visit them in prison. Sometimes I would take family members up there when I went to see Tim. I’ve had brothers who were incarcerated. This was a part of us to give Second Chances.
Q: Tim, how did your time in prison impact your character?
TIM: I was 17 when I went away. They have kiddie camps. Being so big they sent me to the big boy camp. A lot of guys breathed on me and looked at me as their son. I had 10 years of plenty of men looked at me as a chance to give back. It made me more serious. When you do that much time it’s always in the back of your head. People don't realize prison - it's hard, but it’s not that hard. You can play chess all day. You look up and two years have passed. While you’re there, people are dying and kids are growing up. They don't prepare you for being out and making it.
Q: Are they people who come out of prison more disciplined at Sweetie Pie’s because they were in prison?
MR: Sometimes. Some just want the job so they can tell their PO (parole officer) they got a job. Most of them we do give a second chance to.
Q: If you could go back what would you do differently?
MR: I have no regrets. I would have done it sooner. I’m older now and getting tired. I love being in a position to help people.
TIM: Well, if I could go back, I would realize I need to push back on the table once in a while.
Q: How do you keep it together?
MR: It’s not having a son like Tim. He drives me crazy. He’s a handful. When he went to prison he was a mild, meek kid. When he came home a buffalo, I said, “whoa.” It’s really great to have support of your family.
Q: Do you have some dos and don’ts for entrepreneurs?
MR: Each business has its own lessons. I learned mine was by trial and error. I tried to pass them on to him [Tim], but he wont’ listen. He don’t listen. He makes those same mistakes. I always say - be informed about what you’re going to do. Ask somebody who knows. It will save you some steps and mistakes you won’t have to take. Go for it.
Q: You’re been battling about deciding what you will and won’t use the name for. Have you gotten pass it?
MR: We’re still fussing about it. This boy is crazy. I can’t stop him from being my son. We have to get on the same page. I’m hoping we can work it out.
TIM: We’re still fussing with each other. You put a mountain in front of me, I will try to jump over it. I admit, she’s right. I’ve been running very fast. I’m trying to be conscious of TV life versus real life and how to use both of them effectively. I want to continue opening restaurants. I want to do it while we have this television opportunity. You can’t pay for this kind of advertising. I’m always looking for the next building and next city. I’m trying to keep us relevant and give people something to watch.
MR: That boy is crazy. Opening up all these restaurants is good, but you have to have employees. Soul food is a dying breed. A lot of people don't know how to fix it. A restaurant is not an easy thing. He thinks it is. I say don’t open that many. He wants to open a million.
Q: You say it’s hard to get employees for this chain. Patti Labelle last year went of the charts with this pie. Have you thought about it.
MR: Don’t bring it up. I’ve had Tim and my person, I told them five or six years ago to get my sweet potato pie in the store. They lagging and went around doing some other BS (bullshit), excuse me. And Patti came and beat me with the sweet potato pie. I’m pissed. I’m happy for Patti, but that was my idea. And they procrastinated and didn’t get them in there.
TIM: I’ve been meeting at Walmart, there are some things on the table. The lady who orchestrated the whole Patti deal, she said, Tim, I called Sweetie Pie’s for a good two months trying to get in contact with somebody, get in contact with me. I never got the message. Before she did the Patti deal, she was trying to get in contact with us.
MR: If they had gone when I told them to go, she would have had contact because I sent the messenger.
Q: My condolences to your family on the death of your grandson. How did you all come together as a family to get through this tragedy?
MR: We’re not really through it. They haven’t found who did it. To lose Andre was devastating. He was my project. He was a troubled kid. Brought him to St. Louis to live with me thinking I might be able to take him over and help him get through life. He ended up dying in St Louis. That was really devastating.
TIM: It’s sad to say. The particular street where Andre was killed was across the park from my grandmother’s house. Her mother. It’s a block from where my dad got killed and another two blocks from there – another cousin was killed – all on the same street. It’s sad to say it happens time and time again. You never get used to it. In black communities it happens over and over and over again. Sad thing we have to go through that.
Q: Would you be open to opening another restaurant if it was a Sweetie Pie’s Music and Jazz Club where you could perform?
MR: I did my first concert in 25-30 years last month at Catalina. I was so scared. It was like I never sang. My voice wasn’t the best. Singing is my first love and chicken is my second.