Robbie Montgomery spent two decades as a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and other A-list acts — but it’s “Miss Robbie’s” second act as the life force behind a pair of popular St. Louis eateries and star of OWN’s breakout hit Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s that has made her more famous than she could imagine.
With Sweetie Pies’ 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. “Listen, my plate is full and I can’t eat it all!” she laughs.
I spoke recently with Missouri’s most soulful celebrity restaurateur about family, fame, food, faith and more.
CGM: Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s became the No. 1 new show on OWN in its first season — how did that feel for you and your family and employees?
MRM: Oh, it was unbelievable! We were walking around like, “We cannot believe it!” You just pray that this stuff works, and to be the No. 1! I mean, it was unbelievable. We’re still in a daze. We’re still not believing it! But we’re thankful and it’s an honor. It’s 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. I’m a firm believer that we are all spiritual family and He’s not going to put more on you than you can handle. If it gets to be too much, I’m going to say it. But for now we’re 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. I’m loving it! I always liked being the matriarch of the family and I pray that I don’t 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: We’ve got a planned [open] date for the middle of April, but the construction is moving along faster than I had anticipated. So that’s part of our show now — seeing the construction at The Upper Crust. You’re going to see the baby came home. We’re planning for a wedding! Tim and I are going to get into one of our big arguments where we’re 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 — 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 Janae’s decision more so than ours because she’s 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 how’s 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 I’m the oldest of nine and I’ve been around a while. So to think this turned out so well, I’m just grateful and thankful that it turned out the way it did.
CGM: Do we get to see the little guy this season?
MRM: You’re going to see him! In fact he was at the restaurant yesterday. We’ve got him coming down there and we’re 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! It’s so amazing when people say, “I flew in just to do this!” Or “I surprised my wife. We watch the show and I just told her, ‘Lets just jump in the car and go!’” Like they’re maybe from Memphis. Indiana. Chicago. We’ve had the Megabus come!
It’s a blessing. I am honored to go out there and take pictures — and they tell me how I’m 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 — because he’s younger — has new ideas. He wants to change the menu. I’m open to letting him add a few new things — he’s got things like soft-shell crabs and fried peaches and stuff like that that’s not in the old school for me. So I’m going to let him add a few new things.
But my thing is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! When people come to Sweetie Pie’s, they’re looking for that Southern — we call it Mississippi-style — cooking. But I’m also concerned about health, so I do try and have something for people who don’t eat meat, who don’t eat pork. My concern is about other people’s health, but I also want to have a successful restaurant. So I don’t want to put something on there that’s healthy but is not selling. I’m trying to combine the two.
When you come into Sweetie Pie’s, we shower you with love — we call it the Sweetie Pie Experience. There’s a line and you gotta stand in that line and that’s one of my worries too — that people don’t get impatient and leave. And so far people are willing to stay and wait their turn and I’m 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 we’ll come back. I go and encourage them — “We run out of space, but we don’t run out food, so if you’re willing to wait, we will definitely feed you!”
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: It’s 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. I’m glad I’m not in it now, to put it lightly. 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 — 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: © 2012 Harpo Productions, Inc.