Maintaining a wildly popular chain of soul food restaurants, a television show on a major television network, a flourishing music career with such connections as The Migos and Yo Gotti, and establishing community connections by standing alongside locals in times of unrest, all seem to be the stuff of theory rather than practice. However, for rapper and co-owner of the St. Louis landmark Sweetie Pie’s Tim “Time” Norman, and one of the stars of the OWN Networks original show, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” accomplishing all of these things is simply another Wednesday. Hip Hop Enquirer’s Dennis Byron recently had the opportunity to interview the man who seems to master time, where they discussed everything from the origins of the family business, to what Sweetie Pie’s does to employ ex-felons, to his community involvements during the crisis in Ferguson, and finally his music career, all to gain a better understanding of how he balances a successful business and an ever budding career in entertainment.
Originally, Sweetie Pie’s was started from a family hustle of selling homemade sandwiches and pies to neighbors and St. Louis locals. When Time was sentenced to prison, the side hustle of pie slanging had grown into a quaint, mom and pop bakery, selling pies and other baked goods. Upon his release ten years later, Sweetie Pie’s was born, thanks mostly to the business knowledge he acquired while incarcerated, and to his mother and co-owner’s proactive thinking about his employment opportunities upon his release.
Of Sweetie Pie’s 250 employees, 75% are ex-felons, Time shared confidently. This was not the original intent for the direction of, however. When Time was released from prison, he realized that the job market was completely unwelcoming to an ex-felon, and because of this there weren’t many opportunities for employment or reincorporation into society. With the family business Sweetie Pie’s, he not only had an opportunity for himself to be employed, but found that he was in a position to offer employment opportunities to fellow ex-felons as well. He said, “How it started out, I was locked up with this guy, and I know he’s a good dude. He held down a job in jail for eight years without getting into trouble. I knew for a fact he’s overqualified to come here and help me fry up this chicken. Walmart won’t hire him, McDonald’s won’t hire him, [and] Home Depot won’t hire him. He can’t even get a job cutting grass. I knew he’s overqualified. You damn right Imma take him, let him come work here.” Eventually, what was intended to be simply an alternative to the bleakness of the workforce for an ex-felon, evolved into a support system for his employees who were ex-felons and attempting to readjust to society.
In addition to employing ex-felons, Time also talked about Sweetie Pie’s involvement with the crisis in Ferguson this past year. Located in the heart of St. Louis, and the original storefront on West Florissant Avenue, Time and his fellow members of Sweetie Pie’s felt inclined to survey the damages firsthand. When they arrived on the scene, Time particularly realized the life changing, historical events that were transpiring in front of him. He says, “For the first time in my life, I felt a unity and a sense of oneness within the community. And I don’t want to say it’s us against them, them being the government, but I did feel an oneness within the community. Everybody might not have stood correctly, but everybody stood together for something. That was the first time I’d seen something like that in my life.” Everyone who could do so contributed to the community efforts, “beating the pavement,” as Time called it, mobilizing the feed the masses and march alongside them. Above all, Time expressed the sense of pride he felt from his time in Ferguson, all from seeing his people and his community uniting together for a common cause.
During his ten year stint in prison, Time realized his passion for music, for rhyming, and ultimately for hip-hop. He says, “You know how it is. [You’re] locked up for hours with nothing to do. God really showed me the light in the darkness.” After five years, he became cellmates with St. Lunatic’s own City Spud, and formed a bond. From first writing hooks for him, Time was encouraged to start writing verses of his own. Time explained his name as time having no beginning and no ending, and his rhymes being the same way. These humble beginnings spawned a love and devotion to hip hop, and for Time, a future in music was the most logical next step. Through the universality of Sweetie Pie’s, Time had access to countless connections in the entertainment and music industry, and got the opportunity to be on a track with popular rap group, The Migos. By relocating himself to Los Angeles, Time says a variety of opportunities were presented to him, simply because “[from] St. Louis, it’s hard to stay in people’s face as far as doing what I need to do in the entertainment industry. The areas I wanted to grow in as far as business, it [was] hard to do that from St. Louis. It’s not Atlanta, it’s not New York, it’s not Chicago; it’s a lot of opportunities people in St. Louis don’t have. I found myself in LA so much, I thought I might as well open a restaurant out here. The locals were looking for something new.” By opening a West Coast location, Time realized the access he now had to other, more diverse markets.
When Byron asked what he believed to be the key to pursing an effective music career and maintaining a successful business, Time had this to say, “Delegation and building a strong team. They got my back in the restaurant and they got my back in life.” Whether it is truly as simple as having a strong team and work ethic, or having a number of avenues all leading ultimately to success, Tim “Time” Norman of St. Louis’ Sweetie Pie’s and artist is truly in the process of becoming a timeless household name in the near future.
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