Kitchen Q&A: Charles Crenchaw of Sweetie Pie's
Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
Even before Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s became the No. 1–rated show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Sweetie Pie’s was already the No. 1 choice for soul food in St. Louis. So when we heard the restaurant was starting a delivery service—effectively bringing fried chicken from owner Robbie Montgomery (a.k.a. Miss Robbie) to the people—we wanted details. We got the scoop from deliveryman and aspiring manager Charles (a.k.a. Lil’ Charles) Crenchaw. The interview took place on a 95-degree day in Sweetie Pie’s delivery vehicle, a 1993 Dodge Neon with questionable AC and no radio, where this reporter got coerced into running all five of the deliveries. The compensation? A pan of peach cobbler and a Sweetie Pie’s delivery hat.
Does this car have A/C? I'm dyin' in here.
I'll see what I can do, but the Neon's overheating already.
And where's the radio? You've gotta have music, loud music. It's part of being a delivery guy...
Tim [Norman, Robbie's son and Sweetie Pie's co-owner] took it out. He didn't want me getting distracted.
That might force me to sing.
No, no, no. You don't wanna do that.
How involved were you with Sweetie Pie's before you came up with this delivery idea?
Ten years, since I was 15. I started off handing out peppermints and packing to-go orders. Then I served, washed dishes, worked the register, and eventually started cooking. I've worked the entire restaurant.
How often do you actually make the deliveries?
I am the delivery guy. But when I'm not doing that, I answer the phones and I take the orders.
On the phone, do you ever upsell, pushing items like the cobbler?
I do. But half the time they're asking for peach cobbler before I'm even offering.
What other desserts is Sweetie Pies famous for?
Pear cobbler, caramel cake, chocolate cake, and banana puddin'—all Miss Robbies' mother's recipes.
So whose idea was it to start delivery? Yours?
Tim brought it up initially, but I'm the one who ran with it.
Was there anyone in the family who thought delivery was a bad idea?
My aunt Robbie. She was the most unconvinced.
How did you change her mind?
We started delivery at Tim's restaurant [Sweetie Pie's Upper Crust]—so it was out of her hands—and I got enough good feedback that she came around. She saw it was something I was really good at.
How many delivery vehicles does Sweetie Pie's have?
Just this one—but we just started. Tim will have to add more cars as business increases. We've got logos on the side and eventually will get Sweetie Pie's lights on top.
Do you think you want to want to stay in the food business, or is this just a way to pass the time and make a few bucks?
I don't have it all planned out, but as long as we open up new avenues and I stay occupied, I plan to stay with it.
Do you see yourself owning a Sweetie Pie's someday?
I hope that will happen, but I don't know how close to reality that is. It is definitely in the back of my head.
Have you ever thought of owning your own place?
If I ever have a restaurant, it'd be easier under Sweetie Pies' name. Delivery is the first step. If I do well with that, anything can happen. If delivery gets big, it will be a full-time job just managing that.
Did you draw like a five-mile ring around the store to determine the delivery area?
We go out quite a ways. You go out too far, and you won't be delivering hot food.
Then you'll have to answer to Miss Robbie...
And there goes my job and my reputation.
Do you get along with Miss Robbie?
We get along fantastic.
Do you get along with Tim?
Recently, yes, we're getting along pretty well. It helps if I get out of the store to take a delivery. It gives me a chance to cool off.
How will you market the delivery idea?
I've been doing that on my Facebook, on Twitter, and I always have flyers with me. If I see a full parking lot, I fill it with flyers.
Would you ever wear one of those crazy costumes?
Already done it, while promoting the Upper Crust: I wore a chicken suit. I'll do whatever it takes.
What's the most popular delivery item?
Fried chicken is the No. 1 seller. That, and mac and cheese.
Do people tip you or think “Nah, he’s a TV star and doesn’t need the money”?
It goes both ways. There no predicting it.
That's why I'm doing all of your delivery work today—I'm getting good tips.
But I'm taking all the tips today. You're working for peach cobbler.
[The car stops, and SLM's dining editor helps with the delivery.]
That guy in the bicycle shop had the nerve to ask me if I wasn't too old to be a delivery guy.
Did you say anything back?
Yeah, I said, "Aren't you too old to be a bicycle-repair guy?" I hope that doesn't get back to Miss Robbie—my delivery career with Sweetie Pie's might be short lived.
It's too hot to be giving people a hard time.
I should've kept smiling—that's the secret to good tips, you know.
That's the secret to life.
By the way, do you use a radar detector?
Yeah, we're going all of 35 miles per hour. But what would be your excuse if you got pulled over while delivering?
I'd say I'm past the promised delivery time, and if I get a ticket, I'm also gonna have to pay for the delivery.
You know what that excuse will get you? One big, fat ticket.
That's all I got.
How about telling the cop you just might have some extra cobbler in the back?
I believe they call that a bribe. But even if I got the ticket, I'd tell the guy he's doing his job and give him that extra cobbler on the house.
The moral of the story is to always carry extra cobbler.
I'll remember that... I have gotten a bunch of tickets, though.
Really? How many?
I don't know. I get them all taken care of.
Then what are we having this conversation for?! [Laughs.] So would you ever snitch a bite of a customer's food? A pizza delivery guy was recently caught on camera eating pepperoni off a customer's pizza.
Noooo. I'd never do that. For one, I don't like pepperoni.
Another hypothetical: You're making deliveries and starving to death. Would you pull your car through the drive-through at Taco Bell?
Now that I might do. But only after I've done my deliveries.
OK, what would you do if a customer asks you inside?
I'm OK with going inside; I'm no stranger to danger.
No, I mean asks you inside—to party or for something else. These things happen, you know...
No, no, no. That would not exactly be...professional, me being the manager of my own little company and all.
You know Tim made me ask all these questions. This has been a test.
Oh, is that what this is? Well, how am I doing? Did I pass?
You did. And you've got a great gig.
The best is when somebody at the delivery has heard about Sweetie Pie's but never had it. Sometimes I'll stick around, wait until they've had their first bite, catch their smile, then nod, smile back, and leave.
One last question: What do you say to the customer when their delivery is late?
I got caught behind an accident, ran out of gas, the car overheated, I got pulled over, I ran out of chicken...
Sweetie Pie's can't run out of chicken. That's like the pizza guy running out of pepperoni.
It has happened.
I'd hate to have to explain that on the phone to a customer.
That's when I say, "Hey, Tim, you've got a phone call."