Soul food gets spicier with the return of ‘Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s

theGRIO REPORT - Cooking soul food never gets old for Miss Robbie and her son Tim Norman, nor does the drama of owning a restaurant when 'Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s returns to television tonight...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Cooking soul food never gets old for Miss Robbie and her son Tim Norman, nor does the drama of owning a restaurant.

The fourth season of the reality series premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Saturday night, and revealed that this time, it’s all about setting a game plan, mending broken relationships, and keeping those mother-son tiffs in check.

Fresh off filming, the duo came to Los Angeles last week to do press for the new chapter, and of course, made sure Miss Robbie got her fill of meats while in town.

“I was driving us around L.A. in this Escalade getting lost,” Norman tells theGrio about the previous night. “Our friend offered to take over, and I dozed off.”

“I woke up, and I’m not gonna say we were in the hood, but I don’t know if this was one of the best neighborhoods,” he recalls. “It’s turning dark, and I see people and their shopping carts and guys with squeegees trying to clean the windows, like where the hell are we at?”

Turing to Miss Robbie, he rolls his eyes, “She’s out there standing in line at a cart trying to get a pastrami sandwich.”

“I was right at home,” Miss Robbie replies. “No problem. Wasn’t scared. Nothing.”

Cheers meets The Cosby Show

While the feisty head of household spent decades in the City of Angels as a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner, Miss Robbie now calls St. Louis, Missouri home.

It’s a place where she and Norman have spent the last 15 years building their restaurant Sweetie Pie’s from the ground.

Established in 1998, Sweetie Pie’s opened as a home-cooked, home grown soul food bistro with a cafeteria-style setting. It has since expanded to three branches around the city, and became a backdrop for the OWN docuseries in 2011.

According to Miss Robbie, going Hollywood was all her son’s idea, and Norman takes credit.

“It’s a combination of Cheers and The Cosby Show because of the atmosphere we have; the customers that come in every day just to sit and hang out, interact with waiters, and watch me and Ma argue,” Norman explains.

After three seasons on air, the two say business for their restaurant has tripled, and meanwhile, everybody trying to get on TV has either stopped by to eat or apply for a job.

In order to get hired at Sweetie Pie’s, nevertheless, you must know how to work the stove. Even a degree doesn’t help.

“Soul food is cooked to taste,” Miss Robbie points out. “You can’t just open up a bag of green beans and put them out there…I find that, with people who have been to culinary school, it’s a different ball game. They have been taught to do a whole other kind of preparation.”

A door sadly closes

Though the venture has proven fruitful, mother and son face the decision of whether or not to close their first chain when season four of the show begins.

A sentimental landmark, the prototype restaurant shows signs of age and dilapidation, and has become too much for Miss Robbie – whom Norman dubs a “control freak” – to maintain.

“She wants to be able to have her hands on everything,” he observes. “It’s hard for us to be at all the different places at one time. We’re not a chain. We don’t know the process that most chains use. We’re not trying to operate like that.”

Even with the cameras rolling, the two feel little has changed since they became reality TV stars, though Norman says he’s become self-conscious about his attire.

Miss Robbie claims the show hides very little about the way they do business, but admits to screening her words on occasion.

But only on occasion.

“Now you can’t sweep the dirt under the table because the camera’s looking,” she jokes. “You got to clean it up for real.”