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Photos courtesy of Oprah Winfrey Network
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It’s fair to say that Miss Robbie takes no guff. The doyenne of the Sweetie Pie’s empire, Robbie Montgomery is chef, owner, and resident butt-whipper at the family of St. Louis soul-food restaurants that has captivated the nation.
The matriarch at the heart of the hit reality-TV show Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s – along with her dysfunctional blood-family and her dysfunctional restaurant-family -- returns this Saturday night (8 p.m. March 31) for the first episode of the show’s new season on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network
Fans of OWN’s top-rated show will not be disappointed; the friction between relations that defines popular reality TV--and that has been a big part of this series--is there in all its juiciness. Robbie and her prodigal son, Tim Norman (see left), seem to have an ongoing, fundamental disagreement over who’s wearing the toque in the restaurant. (Technically, Robbie wears a hair net, but that’s not important right now.)
At the very least, it’s nice they both can acknowledge that they don’t often get along with one another. As Tim says in the season premiere, “Sometimes it's hard as hell to be a business partner with your mom.”
To indulge in a bit of hyperbole, the same episode features a shocking act of betrayal between mother and son.
Between Tim and his scene-stealing 17-year-old cousin “Lil’ Charles” Crenchaw (at right), every episode offers additional rancor flying back and forth over the sweet potatoes and peach cobbler. Everyone bitches about how lazy Charles is, always finding new, creative ways to avoid work, loaf, and smoke in the alley, but in his defense, Sweetie Pie’s is not his dream. He’s clearly looking to do something other than managing a restaurant, and he’s awfully young yet.
Still, it often appears Tim would love to wring his neck. In a memorable episode from last season, Lil’ Charles asked a girl out on a date, and remembered about an hour beforehand that he had no car. He finagled a ride from another Sweetie Pie’s employee, and while strolling through the St. Louis Zoo with his date, a Spanish exchange student, she offered that the animals scared her. It was a moment laughable with pity; the Zoo was not the setting for romance Lil’ Charles had hoped it would be. The guy just can’t catch a break.
In the season-two premiere episode, Charles actually manages to share a civil moment with Tim – until those old angers flare up again.
For those new to the show, the intro to each episode reminds viewers of the remarkable history of Miss Robbie. She’s a former back-up singer for another St. Louis notable, Ike Turner. When she wasn’t busy being an Ikette, she sang back-up for the likes of Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and on records made by the Supremes ("I'm not supposed to talk about it," she has said of the Supremes gigs. Apparently the world is supposed to think that Diana Ross et al did not need any outside help.)
Miss Robbie developed a lung problem, had to quit the business, and gradually found her way back to an old calling, soul-food cooking. She rules the kitchen at Sweetie Pie’s with a lot of tasting spoons dipped into the side dishes to see if they’ve been made right, and a lot of tough love.
In addition to that wild betrayal we hinted at above, the first episode of the show’s new season features Miss Robbie introducing new employees to one another at the flagship Sweetie Pie’s in the Grove; Tim and fiancée Jenae finally bringing their prematurely born baby home, after five long months in the hospital (see left); and a sneak peak at what will surely become a major draw in this town when it’s done, Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust: a gigantic, multi-million dollar restaurant still being built in the Grand Center area. (In addition to a whole lot of tables, Upper Crust will supposedly boast a banquet area, dance floor, bar area, offices, a bakery, a fancy patio space, a culinary school, and round-the-clock hours on the weekends.)
Later this season on “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” look for more friction between Miss Robbie, Tim, and Jenae as they all temporarily move in with one another; Miss Robbie, never married at age 71, pronounces herself a cougar and goes on the prowl; Tim and Jenae get married; and, as at any good restaurant, various employees fight, cry, make up, and repeat.
But for many, the plot points are small potatoes compared to the show’s greatest joy, when Miss Robbie lets fly one of her no-B.S. assessments / put-downs. Here are a few favorites from the boss lady:
-"Runnin' this crew by myself is a f**kin' job!” -"I know how to get the job done; you don't know sh*t from apple butter." (spoken to her son)
-“Them neck bones look like sh*t”
-And her catch phrase, “If it don’t make money, it don’t make sense.”
Miss Robbie really needs to write a book. But then, with the lines out the door at Sweetie Pie’s, and her big plans for a behemoth of a restaurant nearing completion, a book contract for a memoir with occasional recipes has probably already been inked and signed. We can easily imagine the Sweetie Pie’s-branded foods at the grocery, utensils, aprons, and album of classic soul songs that could be in the offing for the entrepreneur. To paraphrase R&B singers McFadden and Whitehead, ain’t no stoppin’ her now.