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All-Star Chef Lineup Rallies for Fundraiser Benefitting Chicago’s Beloved Breakfast Queen

Breakfast For Ina Pinkney is September 8 at Theater on the Lake

Restaurant Serves Up Smoke And Cell Phone-Free Environment
Ina Pinkney, back in 2002, stands at the host stand at her West Loop restaurant.
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

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.

“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.

  1. Augie Arifi; Bobby’s Lincoln Park
  2. Paul Caravalli and Christopher Bart; Eleven Eleven
  3. Thai Dang; HaiSous
  4. Cleetus Friedman; the Lakefront Restaurant at Theater on the Lake
  5. Phillip Foss; EL Ideas
  6. Debbie Gold; Tied House
  7. Jonathan Goldsmith; Spacca Napoli
  8. Paula Haney; Hoosier Mama Pies
  9. Sandra Holl; Floriole
  10. Brian Jupiter; Ina Mae’s
  11. Greg Laketek; Salumi Chicago
  12. Dave Miller; Baker Miller
  13. Carrie Nahabedian; Brindille, Kostali
  14. Chris Pandel and Leigh Omilinsky; Swift and Sons
  15. Jacquy Pfeiffer; the French Pastry School
  16. Nicole Pedersen; Center on Halsted’s SilverFork Culinary Program
  17. Tony Priolo; Maillard Tavern, Nonnina, Piccolo Sogno
  18. Debbie Sharpe; The Goddess and Grocer
  19. Barry Sorkin; Smoque BBQ
  20. Guiseppe Tentori; GT Fish & Oyster, GT Prime
  21. Jonathan Zaragoza; Birrieria Zaragoza

Theater on the Lake

2401 North Lake Shore Drive, , IL 60614 (312) 414-1313 Visit Website