“I know one thing – I better be in this story,” said Charles Crenchaw, aka Lil’ Charles, one of the stars of Oprah Winfrey Network reality show Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.
“And make sure you get one of us by ourselves,” he continued, motioning his hand back and forth between himself and his aunt, Sweetie Pie’s owner Robbie Montgomery.
What began as a photo op before the filming of what was to have been the season finale of the reality show turned into hilarious banter between the cast: who would stand where, would Tim wear his hat, should Ms. Montgomery hold the award she had received earlier in the day.
“Come on now, y’all –just take the damn picture,” Montgomery fussed at her son Tim Norman and her nephew while Tim’s fiancée Janae shrugged her shoulders and shook her head with a smile.
“Thank you, baby,” Montgomery said, once the pictures were done.
She then gave a taste of spunk to her staff in an attempt to make sure everything was just so – all before the cameras started rolling.
As the crew waited, one couldn’t help but think, “If this is what people are going to see on the show, OWN has a hit.”
Almost one month to the day after Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s first aired on OWN, it was a ratings smash for the network. As a result, next month OWN will begin filming 10 more episodes that will air in the spring.
The network says the series has shown strong ratings’ growth week-to-week, becoming the network's highest rated program in the key female 25-54 demo.
“The audience is really responding to this program, and the ratings continue to build, which is a great testament to the show,” said OWN President Erik Logan.
Norman, the mastermind behind the hit show, can now say, “I told you so.”
“Something just told me people would want to see what goes on behind the scenes,” Norman said. “They have no idea what it’s really like around here and how hilarious it can be.”
Norman worked with a local video production company, Coolfire Media, to film a five-minute sizzle reel, and OWN ate it up like some of Sweetie Pie’s signature macaroni and cheese or peach cobbler.
Viewers have enjoyed Norman’s unique partnership with his mother, his proposal to his longtime girlfriend and the dating life of single, sassy senior Montgomery. According to OWN, more than 6.1 million viewers have tuned in to the show since it first aired. On November 12, Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s ranked No. 2 in its time period among African-American women aged 25-54 and ranked No. 5 in primetime overall out of 95 ad-supported networks for African-American women aged 25-54.
Another delightful surprise was the 40 percent of non-African American viewers who tune in to the show each week.
The major league ratings for OWN have also meant big business for Montgomery and new exposure for her restaurant.
“Is Ms. Robbie here?” a white man asked Chloe, one of the servers at Sweetie Pie’s, last Thursday night. He spoke her name in a tone that would make someone think he had known her his whole life. After confessing that finishing off the macaroni and cheese made him feel “like I’ve had died and gone to heaven,” he told Chloe that he and his table of friends had drove all the way from Louisville just to get a taste of Montgomery’s signature soul food.
“I’m sorry, she’s out of town,” Chloe said.
“Well, tell her that I love the food and I love the show.”
The fame that eluded Montgomery in her singing career with Ike Turner – which was cut short due to health problems – was found through family recipes.
She wasn’t on hand to greet the Louisville patron because she, Norman and Crenchaw were invited guests of the Soul Train Awards in Atlanta. The show – which has another St. Louis connection, thanks to host Cedric The Entertainer – will air on BET’s Centric Network this Sunday. Preview images of the Sweetie Pie’s family working the red carpet have already hit the web.
On Friday, the lunch rush line stretched for more than a 90-minute wait as blues singer Miz Renee Smith kept the waiting crowd in the groove.
Montgomery and her son have come a long way from their humble food service beginnings of “selling tuna fish sandwiches out of the trunk of their car.” And Montgomery’s days as an Ikette – which included firing up a hot plate to feed the Ike Turner Revue when they were on the road during the days of segregation – have given way to a soul food and television star.
“We've all fallen in love with the Montgomery family,” OWN President Sheri Salata said. “You never know what they'll do or say next.”
“Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s” airs Saturday nights at 8 p.m. CST on the OWN Network. Check local listings or Oprah.com for more information. The show is filmed at the Sweetie Pie’s Mangrove location (4270 Manchester Avenue). For restaurant hours and information, call 314-371-0304 or visit http://sweetiepieskitchen.com/.