Robbie Montgomery spent two decades as a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and other A-list acts ā but itās āMiss Robbieāsā second act as the life force behind a pair of popular St. Louis eateries and star of OWNās breakout hit Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s that has made her more famous than she could imagine.
With Sweetie Piesā spring season set to debut Saturday and her new restaurant, The Upper Crust, soon to open its doors, Miss Robbie is equal parts dazzled and grateful. āListen, my plate is full and I canāt eat it all!ā she laughs.
I spoke recently with Missouriās most soulful celebrity restaurateur about family, fame, food, faith and more.
CGM: Welcome to Sweetie Pieās became the No. 1 new show on OWN in its first season ā how did that feel for you and your family and employees?
MRM: Oh, it was unbelievable! We were walking around like, āWe cannot believe it!ā You just pray that this stuff works, and to be the No. 1! I mean, it was unbelievable. Weāre still in a daze. Weāre still not believing it! But weāre thankful and itās an honor. Itās truly an honor.
CGM: Being the matriarch of a family is plenty of work as it is. Running a pair of restaurants is hard enough. You do both at the same time. Was that a learning process for you or is it just cooking for a larger family?
MRM: It does take some getting used to, but I take life as it comes, honey. Iām a firm believer that we are all spiritual family and Heās not going to put more on you than you can handle. If it gets to be too much, Iām going to say it. But for now weāre just rolling along and getting used to running both restaurants and having the film crew around us all the time and handling it pretty good. Iām loving it! I always liked being the matriarch of the family and I pray that I donāt fail, but so far things are working out pretty good.
CGM: When we last saw you, you had finally gotten the loan to open your new restaurant, The Upper Crust. Can you tell me what else viewers can expect to see throughout the new season?
MRM: Weāve got a planned [open] date for the middle of April, but the construction is moving along faster than I had anticipated. So thatās part of our show now ā seeing the construction at The Upper Crust. Youāre going to see the baby came home. Weāre planning for a wedding!Ā Tim and I are going to get into one of our big arguments where weāre not speaking. He ends up getting suspended. I fire Lil’ Charles again. So all this stuff is coming on now [laughs].
CGM: Family foibles are at the heart of the show, but you had some pretty heavy stuff happen, as well, during the filming of the first season, especially with the premature birth of baby TJ. My child was born three months early, as well, so I know how stressful it is ā what was the decision-making like on how to go with the flow while filming?
MRM: We decided that this had taken place and it is part of our lives, so we let them film it. And actually it was Janaeās decision more so than ours because sheās the mother, so we just decided that we would make this a part of our show.
I mean, it was a devastating time in our lives where we actually just wanted to stop the show and deal with Janae having the baby. But we decided we would just make it a part of the show and take it from there. And It was so amazing that the whole world was praying with us. And when people see us now, the first thing they ask is howās the baby? I mean so much love and God has blessed us so tremendously that this baby is all right. Just so many things was crossing my mind because Iām the oldest of nine and Iāve been around a while. So to think this turned out so well, Iām just grateful and thankful that it turned out the way it did.
CGM: Do we get to see the little guy this season?
MRM: Youāre going to see him! Ā In fact he was at the restaurant yesterday. Weāve got him coming down there and weāre getting him ready to come to work!
CGM: How much has your clientele changed since the premiere of the show?
MRM: My clientele has changed so much! People are coming in from all over the world just to eat there!Ā Itās so amazing when people say, āI flew in just to do this!” Or āI surprised my wife. We watch the show and I just told her, āLets just jump in the car and go!ā” Like theyāre maybe from Memphis. Indiana. Chicago. Weāve had the Megabus come!
Itās a blessing. I am honored to go out there and take pictures ā and they tell me how Iām an inspiration to them. It makes me feel very warm-hearted. I love my customers and they seem to love Miss Robbie. I eat it up! I eat it up!
CGM: How different will The Upper Crust be from Sweetie Pie’s?
MRM: Actually, I wanted to keep it basically the same, but my son Tim ā because heās younger ā has new ideas. He wants to change the menu. Iām open to letting him add a few new things ā heās got things like soft-shell crabs and fried peaches and stuff like that thatās not in the old school for me. So Iām going to let him add a few new things.
But my thing is, if itās not broke, donāt fix it!Ā When people come to Sweetie Pieās, theyāre looking for that Southern ā we call it Mississippi-style ā cooking. But Iām also concerned about health, so I do try and have something for people who donāt eat meat, who donāt eat pork. My concern is about other peopleās health, but I also want to have a successful restaurant. So I donāt want to put something on there thatās healthy but is not selling. Iām trying to combine the two.
When you come into Sweetie Pie’s, we shower you with love ā we call it the Sweetie Pie Experience. Thereās a line and you gotta stand in that line and thatās one of my worries too ā that people donāt get impatient and leave. And so far people are willing to stay and wait their turn and Iām so thankful and appreciative to my customers for not minding the wait. Because I know when I go somewhere and they say the wait is two hours or something like that, I say weāll come back. I go and encourage them ā āWe run out of space, but we donāt run out food, so if youāre willing to wait, we will definitely feed you!ā
CGM: As a singer, are you drawn to all of the singing competitions that are on television right now? Do you keep up with the music industry?
MRM: Itās a whole different world than when I was out there! When I was out there, you just had to be able to sing and hope somebody discovered you. But now the business and the competitions and the way you get into the music business has changed dramatically. Iām glad Iām not in it now, to put it lightly.Ā But singing is my first love and if I could still do it, I probably would. I still listen to the radio and keep up with all the current hits and I watch all the shows ā The Voice, American Idol, all the talent shows, the Grammys.
If I find out there is going to be a musical show on, I rush home to see it!
The spring season of Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s airs Saturdays at 10pm ET/PT beginning March 31.
Photo and video:Ā Ā© 2012 Harpo Productions, Inc.