Sweetie Pies Set to Expand Outside St. Louis with Knowles Investment

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According to multiple sources with knowledge of the deal, Sweetie Pie’s, the soul-food restaurant made famous by the reality TV show Welcome to Sweetie Pies on the Oprah Winfrey Network, will soon have another big name on board. The three-location restaurant is close to finalizing a deal with Matthew Knowles, father of international recording superstar and actress Beyoncé.

Knowles, based in Houston, has recently been spotted around St. Louis at several eateries. The deal is expected to close in early April. His Music World Entertainment, Inc. has sold more than 300 million records. Additionally, Knowles Music World Properties has real estate holdings across the country.

Sweetie Pie’s was founded by Robbie Montgomery and her son Tim Norman in 1996 in the north St. Louis suburban community of Dellwood. A second location in The Grove neighborhood of central St. Louis City opened in 2006.  Both were immediately popular. With this success and hundreds of thousands in state Brownfield Redevelopment Incentives, Montgomery was able to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant, banquet hall, cooking school and performing arts space in a single location. In 2012 she opened Sweetie Pie’s $4 million The Upper Crust location on Delmar in the city’s Grand Center arts and entertainment district.

The extent of the plans Knowles may have for the popular eatery that regularly sees lines out the door and around the block, is unclear, but the possibilities are extensive. Montgomery has been quoted as saying, “I think closing West Florissant (Dellwood) and Mangrove (in The Grove) would be a great business decision,” Neither location is lucrative enough according to Montgomery. She has also expressed an interest in putting her full effort into the Grand Center location. In the past, rumors of a location closure have gained a lot of attention, but were temporary and apparently the result of poor communication by the restaurant.

Knowles has the capital and connections to take the Sweetie Pies name national if he so chooses. It’s expected that Montgomery and Norman will continue to be involved in the operation of at least the Grand Center location. A thread running through the TV show, set to begin its fourth season on March 15, is the stress created by the family running three locations. Clearly, any further expansion would require external resources. Tellingly, the first three episodes of the season are titled “Houston’s Calling”, “Shifting Priorities”, and “Negotiating a Dream”. The synopses mention a new restaurant location in Houston, the first outside St. Louis.

Locally, Sweetie Pies Upper Crust was also notable for its location. The massive makeover of an unremarkable building on the edge of Grand Center was news in itself, but all the more so because it happened in the shadow of the John Cochran Veteran’s Administration Hospital. Significant demolition made way for the hospital, and since the 1940s its desire to expand has been well documented. According to the Post-Dispatch, $44M was appropriated by Congress in 2009 as seed money for a 262K ft hospital expansion. Fox2 reported in 2012 that Sweetie Pies might be forced out by the VA expansion.

{Sweetie Pies Upper Crust in yellow, The Palladium/Club Plantation in orange, VA above}

In 2010 Missouri Governor Jay Nixon happily announced $424, 227 in Brownfield Redevelopment Incentives for the Sweetie Pies Upper Crust location in Grand Center. The announcement was made at the restaurant’s location in The Grove. The Governor was quoted at the time as saying, “Economic incentives like the Brownfield program are essential to spurring growth and allowing Sweetie Pie’s and other businesses to hire hard-working Missourians. These resources will turn an abandoned building into a new restaurant for a unique St. Louis business which has developed a large, loyal and diverse customer base, while creating jobs and boosting our economy.”

{the Grand Center Sweetie Pies location was a bit rough prior to renovation}

Additionally, adjacent to Sweetie Pies sits the Palladium Building, once home to the Club Plantation. The musical history of the building is remarkable. It has sat vacant for some time and has been excluded from the extensive master planning effort underway in the district. The opening and instant popularity of Sweetie Pies made a VA takeover seem less likely. The city and VA watched as Montgomery’s dream came to fruition.

Yet Montgomery doesn’t appear stuck on the location, once telling the St. Louis American, “I’m prepared to be a good citizen and make room for the Veterans Hospital – if that happens. If they prepare for me to go someplace else I’ll move on. I listen to God, so wherever he leads me I will follow.” A recent St. Louis Public Radio commentary by musician Pokey Lafarge (recently performing on the Late Show with David Letterman) has raised the profile of the preservation effort. It’s expected that the VA will finalize expansion plans in the near future.

Montgomery grew up in the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project. She first became widely noticed as a member of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue backing group, the Ikettes, during the 1960s. Before retiring from singing in 1980 following a collapsed lung, she also worked with Dr. John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, and The Rolling Stones among many others. The reality television series is produced for the Oprah Winfrey Network by local firm Coolfire StudiosAn attempt to reach Montgomery for this story was unsuccessful. 

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  • Dick

    They can’t close the Grove location! Not lucrative enough? Oh, suck an ass! The line is out the door every time I’ve ever been by there! This Texas guy is a jabroni.

    • moe

      Well it could be that many patrons just sit around, especially if Oprah’s team is filming. But in any case, even though I hope they don’t move out of the Mangrove (though it was another restaurant before Sweet Pies), there are better places for soul food.

      • John

        It’s a landmark for the neighborhood and it’s something people from out of town think of when they think about St. Louis. When I lived in Washington State, people asked me about Sweetie Pie’s when they found out I’m from St. Louis. It brings people to the Grove who otherwise would not go there.

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s true that it’s always packed. Tour buses pull up, lines are out the door. Hard to imagine it’s really not profitable. But I don’t think that’s what’s meant, rather that the Upper Crust is the focus and so the other locations may not be worth running no matter the financial side of it.

  • moe

    Love the “if that happens. If they prepare for me to go someplace else I’ll move on.” I guess once you’re on TV, then you get free or greatly reduced buildings.
    And I’m sorry….I just don’t get the ‘salvation’ of the Palladium. Comparing the before and after pictures…they aren’t even the same. What did it look like when it WAS the Palladium? that is what they should have returned it to. Now if that is the way it looked way back then, I might be more agreeable, but the current view looks very ‘suburban’ to me and not very historic at all. History or no history.

    • David

      Her place wasn’t the Palladium, the Palladium is next door and still awaiting renovation.

      • moe

        I stand corrected. However, my premise remains the same….and as STLEnginerd commented…hard to even call that a rehab. It looks very ‘suburban’. And invest all that public money only to move? It seems someone should have been asking that question before writing the checks. I mean, would you build a restaurant or anything if you heard that the property might be needed for an expansion?

        • STLEnginerd

          Delmar through grand center is a weird street. All the buildings seem to face either grandel or franklin with backs facing Delmar. Angled parking all along Delmar but no storefronts until now. I think so thought and planning needs to go into what Delmar through grand center is supposed to look like. Is it a retail street or is it an access street to the retail which faces franklin and grandel.

          Single story is not automatically suburban. Sweetie pies is reconfigured to face south to Delmar but it is built to the sidewalk and fils the lot so it’s urban even if it kind of looks like red robin to me.

          • moe

            I don’t mind the single story aspect….it’s just the overall outward appearance that is boring stucco. Even though the original brick and block walls are not enough to face the building, they could have at least put up a brick façade or some ornamentation other than awnings and a dull, boring color. That is what makes it suburban and ‘red robin’ish to me.

  • STLEnginerd

    Wow. Hard to even call that a rehab. Looks great though.

  • Geoff Whittington
    • Alex Ihnen

      I thought I’d read something about Sweetie Pies expansion somewhere. :)

  • DD

    OMG Ms. Robbie I grew up in the Pruitt-Igoe!!! My mother said we lived near the Spinks. My mother was in a girl group that had a bitter ending and she refuses to discuss. I always tell my friends my mother won contests in St. Louis singing Aretha!!! My oldest daughter (we live in Maryland) was in St. Louis and wanted to surprise me with an autograph but Robbie wasn’t in. My ex (who said my girls met St. Lunatics as kids visiting), mother, bros still live in St. Louis! LOVE Sweeties Pies TV show!

  • Marc9834

    Put that restaurant in Austin,Tx. There are many soul food restaurants in Houston so as good as Sweetie Pies is,in Houston it won’t be anything new. But, in Austin there are very few soul food restaurants so Sweetie Pies would stand out,be unique and I believe successful. Think about it.

  • M P

    This doesn’t seem like it will end well…the family, with all their drama & issues (has any ONE of them had any managerial training…maybe go train with the Chick-Fil-A execs, as they have seen EXCELLENT customer service & results countrywide) and don’t even get me started on the Matthew Knowles foolery!

  • GuitarJam

    restaurants are tricky. location and demographic are everything. since they only make greasy soul food their clientele will be obese. the restaurant has to be in a location where the fatties live. a fatty isn’t going to drive across town and risk a heart attack or stroke trying to get some mac & cheese where 70% of the calories are from saturated fat

    • Mike F

      You, sir, are an ass. Fatties? What are you, a twelve-year-old boy?

  • marc byrdwell

    Austin Tx think
    about it. Please respond

  • Art Lyons

    as a businessman, I look at the show and st. louis is a winner. I have been to St. Louis but to not sweet pie’s yet. Austin would be great, I have been there too and I think sweet pie’s would be a winner. I think is Memphis good too. If a location in ATL becomes available I would consider it.

  • Wanda

    Open up a location where their is no soul food restaurant in sight. Rockville, MD north of DC!

  • DALLAS GAL

    Open a SWEETIE PIES IN DALLAS, TEXAS. PLEEEEASE!!!

  • Swan

    Please open a Sweetie Pie’s in NYC and Buffalo, NY