[INTERVIEW] OWN TVâs Miss Robbie Cooks Up a Hit with "Welcome to Sweetie Pies"

Miss Robbie Montgomery has done it all.  She’s toured the country as a background singer for Ike and Tina Turner in the 1960s, enjoyed a twenty-year singing career and launched two soul food restaurants in St. Louis -- Sweetie Pies and Sweetie Pies at the Mangrove.  And the 71-year-old matriarch shows no signs of slowing down.

Miss Robbie currently stars in the second season of her popular reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Welcome to Sweetie Pies, and is in the process of building her third business, Sweetie Pies: The Upper Crust, which will be a restaurant, performing arts center, cooking school and banquet hall in one location.  And with her only son and business partner Tim Norman, the rest of their family and Oprah Winfrey by her side, Miss Robbie plans to keep rising to the top. 

In an interview with EBONY, she dishes on what makes her show such a hit.

EBONY:  Your Sweetie Pies soul food restaurants have people lined up around the block in St. Louis and your show is a ratings hit for OWN and has been nominated for a 2012 Vision Award.  When you opened your first restaurant back in 1996, did you ever see this level of success and a reality show for Oprah Winfrey in your future?

RM:  Never. It actually was my son’s idea [to do the show] and in the process of doing it I prayed that this would be a success -- because nobody wants to be a part of a failure -- and thank God it ended up being successful! It’s so exciting and to be one of the highest rated shows, it’s unbelievable.  We’re truly blessed and thankful. My son had this vision that it would be a funny thing to show the behind-the-scenes of being a family and what it takes to run a restaurant.  

EBONY: Why do you think so many people are gravitating towards your show and your family?

RM:   I think the reason the show works is because families relate to us. We are a struggling Black family just like many families out there.  Everybody has a Miss Robbie in their family and a Lil’ Charles [her restless nephew] and a son telling the mom what to do like he knows the most.  People tell me all the time, “I feel like I’m a part of your family.”  And with [her grandson] Baby TJ being born 3 months early, people tell me, “I have a preemie too.”  

[PICS] Welcome to Sweetie Pies

[PICS] Welcome to Sweetie Pies

When people watch us, they don’t see the partying and drinking you see on other shows. They just see a real family figuring it out through the ups and downs in our life.

EBONY: Speaking of Baby TJ, we saw on the last season of the show that your family went through so much with him, praying for his health and waiting to bring him home from the hospital. How is TJ doing now?

RM:  He is doing just fine! Baby TJ is so cute; he looks just like his grandmother! [laughs] He is 9-months-old now and just had his check-up and he’s doing good.  He’s free from the hospital and healthy, thank God.  We prayed for him and the world prayed for him with us and we are so grateful to God.

EBONY: That is so good to hear!  It’s really incredible to know the things you’ve survived and experienced in your life. Another interesting thing you’ve talked about is your experience touring with Ike and Tina Turner as a background singer. Tell us something we’d be surprised to learn about those two.

RM:Well one thing is that nobody out there touring knew how to cook! I was the only person who could cook in the whole place, so I cooked for everybody.  I taught Tina how to make hot water cornbread. So if you ever go to her house and she fixes hot water cornbread for you, know that I taught her how! [Laughs]

And you know, Ike and Tina had their problems but it wasn’t ever our problem [as a group].  A lot of the stuff that happened between them didn’t happen in front of us.  Ike was a business man and a professional and Tina was an employee, just like we were employees.  Being around Ike, we called it the Turner University because we learned so much. A lot of the stuff Ike taught us about business, I’ve applied to my own business:  being on time, being prepared, and being professional. And I think Tina runs her ship today with some of the things Ike taught too.

EBONY: Well it is obvious you are running a very tight ship and you’ve been very successful. What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you?

RM: The challenge is trying to keep up with all of it! On top of