Last time St. Louis Magazine spoke with Robbie Montgomery, the dynamic owner of the local soul food restaurant Sweetie Pie’s, she wasn’t a national TV star. She sure is now, thanks to Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, an OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network reality show that documents the day-to-day challenges of running her restaurants, working with family and the process of opening her third location. The show’s a bona fide hit—the network’s No. 1 new show—and has been picked up for another season. We got Montgomery to stand still just long enough to get an update on how things are going.
You’re so busy these days! How do you juggle it all?
I don’t know, I just go. I work better under pressure, I guess.
Singer, dialysis technician, restaurant owner—you’ve had multiple careers and have been successful in all of them. What’s your secret?
I don’t have a secret, I wish I did. It’s just perseverance. All of these things start out as just an idea, but if you don’t act on it, it’s just an idea. You have to just do it. Most of these things I do, I do out of love—and, thank God, they’ve been successful. It’s not easy, there are lots of stumbling blocks, but you just keep going, keep your eyes on the prize.
And now you’re a TV star. Has it been tough for you to adjust to the cameras?
No, after a while, you get used to it. I never would have imagined that, at 71, I’d be doing a TV show. You never know where you’ll end up.
How’s your grandson doing?
He’s wonderful! He came home and he’s off his oxygen. He weighs 9 pounds, 13 ounces and he’s as cute as he can be. I’m so thankful the whole world prayed for him. ( Editor's Note: Timmy was born prematurely, and it's become a storyline on the show.)
How’s the new location in Grand Center coming along?
Construction is under way. … We’re hoping maybe March, no later than April. We’ll have an event space, a culinary school, a bakery, a bar, a conference room—my dream is a restaurant that I designed the way I want it. We’re going to add a lot of menu items because we’ll have more room on the steam line. I think we’ll do a sit-down menu. And we’ll add breakfast over at the new place.
A Sweetie Pie's culinary school?
Well, we really call it a cooking school. Soul food is sort of a dying art. Kids come in all the time and say, “I haven’t had this since my grandma’s.” And they don’t know how to cook it. My mac and cheese recipe is out there on the Internet, but people say when they make it, it doesn’t taste like mine. Beans and greens, people don’t know how to cook them. And young people want to learn. We’re going to show them.
The show’s become a big hit. You’ve always been popular here in St. Louis, but now you’ve got fans nationwide. Do you hear from them? Do they ever visit the restaurant?
Oh yeah, people come from all over! Memphis, Baltimore—all over. They tell me they came to St. Louis just to eat at Sweetie Pie’s! I’m really honored. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled to a city just to eat. But when someone says they came from Indianapolis just to eat here, I’m touched and I hug ’em—I want to cry, but I don’t want to mess up my eyelashes.
So have you met Oprah?
Not yet! I’m looking forward to it; I think we might get to meet her soon.
Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s airs on OWN:Oprah Winfrey Network on Saturdays at 9/8 Central. Watch for the second season in the spring of 2012.