One of Chicago’s most beloved restaurateurs, Ina Pinkney, needs help with her medical bills and more than 20 local chefs have rallied together for a fundraiser in September at Theater on the Lake in Lincoln Park. Breakfast For Ina features a diverse lineup of chefs including Phil Foss (El Ideas), host Cleetus Friedman (the Lakefront Restaurant), Debbie Gold (Tied House), and Thai Dang (HaiSous). These chefs on September 8 will make their own unique dishes and reinvent Pinkney’s classics she served at her now-closed famous West Loop breakfast spot, Ina’s.
In December, Pinkney broke her thigh after a fall and injured the same leg already affected by polio, a disease doctors diagnosed her with as a child. She had a metal rod inserted into her leg for stability during surgery. Pinkney spent the last nine months rehabilitating her leg and is bound to a wheelchair. While healing, bills (including mortgage and medical costs) have built up.
About two months ago, Foss visited Pinkney after hearing about her health issues. Seeing a restaurant legend like Pinkney struggle resonated with Foss. The industry isn’t built for longevity, Foss said, and there are no retirement plans.
“It’s sobering if a person like Ina is left and uncared for,” Foss said.
Ina’s closed in 2013 after 12 years along Randolph Street. Known as the “Breakfast Queen,” Pinkney earned a reputation for her bright personality and signature dishes like her “Heavenly Hots” pancakes. She also writes a breakfast column in the Tribune. Her restaurant career spanned 33 years.
“What you want with breakfast is pure sunshine, and she’s pure sunshine,” said Foss, chef/owner of El Ideas in Douglas Park.
Pinkney is also known for her own generosity, and for givers like her, they often struggle finding the support they need. Foss, who visited Pinkney to make her breakfast, posted a photo on Instagram a little more than two months ago. Other chefs, like Friedman, saw the post and they began brainstorming ways to help. At first, Foss thought about hosting a dinner, but holding a breakfast/brunch just made more sense.
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Ina Pinkney @thebreakfastqueen1 is simply an amazing woman & a legend here in the Chicago culinary community. She’s been down on her luck, so I paid her a visit and made her breakfast #scaryprospect Words can’t express how special of a morning it was, and stay tuned as a collaboration dinner to help her out is officially in the works. #NurtureThoseWhoNurtureOthers #Reconnect
“She is in a bad situation and we want to raise as much money as possible,” Friedman said.
Pinkney has a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $85,000. So far it’s raised about $28,000. She needs help paying for medical work including ensuring her home is ADA compliant to make wheelchair mobility easier. Many restaurant workers struggle with access to health care and fund-raising websites are a common way for workers to generate money to pay for medical bills.
Friedman is going to supply his signature bloody Marys. Foss said he isn’t sure what he’s making, but he may collaborate with Abe Conlon (Fat Rice). Some chefs want to recreate some of Pinkney’s classic dishes. For example, Tony Priolo (Maillard Tavern, Nonnina, Piccolo Sogno) grew up eating at Ina’s and will take on those “Heavenly Hots.”
Tickets are $95 and the event is on Sunday, September 8. There are about 200 tickets, and tickets are selling fast, Friedman said.
Check out the chef lineup below.
- Augie Arifi; Bobby’s Lincoln Park
- Paul Caravalli and Christopher Bart; Eleven Eleven
- Thai Dang; HaiSous
- Cleetus Friedman; the Lakefront Restaurant at Theater on the Lake
- Phillip Foss; EL Ideas
- Debbie Gold; Tied House
- Jonathan Goldsmith; Spacca Napoli
- Paula Haney; Hoosier Mama Pies
- Sandra Holl; Floriole
- Brian Jupiter; Ina Mae’s
- Greg Laketek; Salumi Chicago
- Dave Miller; Baker Miller
- Carrie Nahabedian; Brindille, Kostali
- Chris Pandel and Leigh Omilinsky; Swift and Sons
- Jacquy Pfeiffer; the French Pastry School
- Nicole Pedersen; Center on Halsted’s SilverFork Culinary Program
- Tony Priolo; Maillard Tavern, Nonnina, Piccolo Sogno
- Debbie Sharpe; The Goddess and Grocer
- Barry Sorkin; Smoque BBQ
- Guiseppe Tentori; GT Fish & Oyster, GT Prime
- Jonathan Zaragoza; Birrieria Zaragoza