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Chefs cooking up a fundraiser for Chicago’s ‘Breakfast Queen’

In September, chefs from around Chicago will host a breakfast fundraiser for Ina Pinkney, former owner of Ina’s and a beloved staple in the city’s culinary scene.

Ina Pinkney, affectionately known as the “Breakfast Queen,” warmed many Chicagoans’ stomachs with breakfast over a 33 year-long career as the owner of Ina’s in the West Loop. She will receive the 2020 Jean Banchet Culinary Achievement Award.
Ina Pinkney, affectionately known as the “Breakfast Queen,” warmed many Chicagoans’ stomachs with breakfast over a 33-year career as owner of Ina’s in West Loop.
Stephen Hamilton, courtesy of Agate Publishing

Growing up, Tony Priolo had a go-to breakfast order: the ‘Heavenly Hots’ at Ina’s in the West Loop, restaurateur Ina Pinkney’s hearty take on pancakes.

Now, Priolo — a renowned chef himself — will join more than 20 other Chicago-area chefs to raise money for the beloved and retired “Breakfast Queen.”

The chefs will dish up some of Pinkney’s classic recipes — like her Heavenly Hots — as well as some of their own spins on her dishes at a breakfast fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 8 at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive.

Pinkney, who has long battled post-polio syndrome, began using a wheelchair after a debilitating fall last year. The breakfast costs $95; proceeds will be used to make her home more wheelchair-accessible.

The idea for a fundraiser came to Phillip Foss, owner of EL Ideas in Douglas Park, after joining her at home for breakfast.

“She was telling me about how bad financial straits she’s in on account of her injury,” Foss said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got a restaurant, I could raise money.’”

Cleetus Friedman, a chef at Theater on the Lake, heard about Foss’ fundraising idea after Foss posted on social media. Friedman offered Theater on the Lake as a venue — and it was then that things really began to come together.

The two sent an email to Chicago-based chefs and “15 chefs [replied] in 20 minutes,” Friedman said.

“Everyone just wants to be a part of it because everyone loves Ina so much ... that’s been the success of this idea,” he said.

“It’s just remarkable to see the outpouring of support from chefs — people are coming to me asking to be involved in it,” Foss said. “Almost everyone involved has a connection to Ina in one way or another.”

The “best” in the restaurant industry, Foss added, are “great at nurturing others ... and I really don’t know anyone who embodied that quite as Ina did.”

Pinkney will join guests and chefs alike at the breakfast, which was first reported by Eater Chicago.

“When one needs help, doesn’t ask for help and an amazing amount of help just shows up,” Pinkney said, “it reminds us that the community of people who feed others has the biggest heart of all.”

Tickets are available at the fundraiser’s Eventbrite page, although Foss and Friedman warn they’re selling quickly. Pinkney also has a GoFundMe campaign for medical costs.

Promotional graphic for ‘Breakfast for Ina.’ The fundraiser will be at Theater on the Lake on September 8 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets available on Eventbrite for $95 each.
“Breakfast for Ina” will be at Theater on the Lake from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 8. Tickets are available on Eventbrite for $95.
Provided photo