By JACK WEATHERLY
Charles Crenchaw took a break from moving old kitchen equipment out and new equipment into what will become a restaurant.
But it’s not just any restaurant. After all, how many have their own television shows?
If you’re a staff member at of one of the “Sweetie Pie’s” locations you very well may have been a cast member of a reality show.
The show is “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” which just concluded its seventh and apparently final season on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Crenchaw confirmed rumors that the chain would open its next eatery in Jackson, this one in the Plaza Building, an 11-story art deco structure at the corner of Congress and Amite streets in downtown.
Downtown is undergoing a decade-long effort to reinvent itself – as a mixed use area with apartments, retailers and restaurants. More than a quarter of a billion dollars has been invested by the private sector, and three times that much in the public sector.
“Sweetie Pie’s” will bring with it the panache of its television exposure.
It will be the fourth restaurant in the soul-food chain. There are two in St. Louis and one in Houston, Crenchaw said.
“We don’t know when we’re going to open up,” Crenchaw said while sitting at a table, his work gloves off, in The former quarters of La Finestra restaurant, which closed two years ago. Efforts to reach other principals with the chain have proved unsuccessful.
Crenchaw said the demographics of the show tended to be 35 and older and predominantly black.
“Miss Robbie” Montgomery, his aunt, is the matriarch of the show, so she attracts the older crowd, he said.
When a “Sweetie Pie’s” opens, it typically is flooded with crowds because of its TV-infused following, said Crenchaw, 29, who virtually grew up on the show. So the company likes low-key openings to allow the new staff to get up to speed, he said.
Aside from moving equipment, Crenchaw said he has been busy getting permits from the city.
Montgomery, 78, was born in Columbus, Miss., and her family moved to St. Louis when she was six.
She became a singer and eventually was one of the Ikettes with the the legendary Ike and Tina Turner show for eight years, she said in an interview on ABC7 in Chicago earlier this year.
She had to put her singing career on hold for 18 years because of a lung condition, which she has since overcome, she said in the interview.
That’s when she became a restaurateur.
“I tell people that music is my first love and that chicken is my second,” said the author of “Sweetie Pie’s Cookbook.”
The show has elements of a dramedy – part drama, part comedy. A major source of tension has come from the ambitions of Miss Robbie’s son, Tim Norton. With a desire to see the enterprise become a national chain, he has been at odds with his mother.
In fact, she sued him to block the use of variations of the restaurant name after he opened some eateries in California and elsewhere.
The mother and son worked out their differences. “We agreed to disagree,” Norton said in one of the episodes.
“We fight because we are a family,” Miss Robbie said.
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