Ina Pinkney is an institution in the Chicago Restaurant scene. You’ll find her at her eponymously named breakfast and lunch spot 5 days a week working the door and the crowd. She’s committed to doing things the right way which includes - NO cell phones, warm syrup and pouring your own coffee from the carafe on your table. She’s very much like your grandmother telling you to sit up straight while feeding you some great, creative breakfast food. You don’t really argue with Ina and if you did I don’t know if you’d win!
She’s led a rich life and I think my time with her only scratched the surface of what she’s accomplished and seen. I look forward to future conversations, pancakes and laughs. Ina emailed me immediately when my 2012 predictions came out and expressed how much she liked them and wanted to talk more over breakfast! From that recent conversation, we played 20 questions.
Name Ina Pinkney
From Brooklyn, NY - Hasn't watched baseball since the Didger's left town.
University Long Island University – CW Post
Knife Hand Right
Twitter Handle @breakfastqueen1
1. What did you have for lunch yesterday?
Egg Salad on Matzo
2. Place you eat most often?
3. Favorite ingredient to work with?
Butter, Flour Sugar and Eggs – I love to bake.
4. If I gave you $5,000 how would you spend it?
Ina: Post Recession – Pay down one of my bills. Pre-recession I would go immediately to Paris.
CFS: St Honore and eat pastry?
Ina: Go eat Pastry
5. First word that comes to mind when I say foodie?
You – (I laugh)
6. Favorite Charity Event that you do?
Green City Market BBQ because all the chefs are out and it’s the best.
7. Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?
Ina: New York City
CFS: Anywhere specific
Ina: 2nd Ave Deli – Pastrami on Rye, Fries and a hot tea
8. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Ina: Orthopedic Surgeon
CFS: What happened that you didn’t?
Ina: I cut myself and the site of blood made me faint (laughs)
CFS: That might be a small problem. So now you butcher animals for a living, ya that’s not weird at all.
Ina: (still laughing) but here’s the interesting thing I’ve had 21 jobs in my life and I was fired from 19 of them.
CFS: Which didn’t you get fired from the two you owned?
Ina: No, I was a English teacher in East Harlem and was VP of a marketing company
CFS: Which was the one that surprised you the most that you got fired from?
Ina: (Laughs) All of them. I thought I was doing a good job but the corporate culture, I don’t know.
CFS: Was it after a while or right away?
Ina: A year or so or less…I baked my first cake when I was 37. Then I realized I was an entrepreneur. We didn’t have that mentality in the 40’s and 50’s.
9. Most exotic vacation destination that you’ve been to?
I have to say the broader sense of exotic I only went to 3 star restaurants on the French Riviera, it was amazing.
10. If you left Chicago to go somewhere else, where would you migrate to for work?
Ina: New York City
CFS: Thin crust or deep dish?
Ina: Very thin crust, here I like Great Lakes. I don’t understand square pizza slices.
11. Most embarrassing moment?
Ina: (pauses) I don’t know if I’ve ever had that. It takes a lot to make me embarrassed. I’m brave so I don’t worry. I’ve had amazing moments – I once danced with Fred Astaire. That was phenomenal.
CFS: What! When was that?
Ina: It was an event for the New York City Film Society. Count Basie was the band and they showed film clips. I sat next to Ginger Rogers.
CFS: How did you get that seat?
Ina: It was $100 and my husband bought it for me as a gift. We were upstairs at the reception and he was standing alone and everyone was around him. So I walked right up to him – I walked with a limp because I had polio as an 18 month old – and asked him to dance. He said, “I see you have a little trouble walking and perhaps we should sway together.” So we swayed back and forth about 10 times (voice gets dreamy) I said thank you and then I faded away and that was it.
12. What are you most excited about right now?
Ina: The prospect of retirement. (Laughs)
CFS: Are you going to retire?
Ina: (laughs) No! But I think about it!
CFS: Would you sell Ina’s?
Ina: No, no. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I would like to reach a point that the business was doing better so I can get off the schedule. I get in 4 days a week at 6am and that’s hard. I’d love to float in at 8am and leave before we close. I’d like to get off the schedule.
13. Do you have any pet peeves?
My biggest pet peeve is the inability to have a conversation in a restaurant these days! The noise level is offensive to me. I’m subjected to someone else’s music choices. All I hear is “four on the floor, BOOM, BOOM!” – see I’m cool. (Laughs) Oh and when bussers say, “Are you still working on that?” I didn’t know eating became work? My bussers ask if you’re finished but sadly people reply I’m still working on that!
14. What’s your karaoke song?
“I Will Survive”
15. Being in the West Loop on Randolph you’ve seen a few “resurgences.” How would you describe this one?
It’s very exciting. I’m not sure how a lot of high end restaurants are going to sustain. I’ve not been to Au Cheval but heard good things. I’ve been to Publican Meats and had a great sandwich. City Winery that’s opening is going to have music 4 nights a week. I know some of the buildings have sold in the area which could be good.
16. There are a lot of breakfast spots in town – where do you go?
Actually, my dream all week is Monday morning at home. I can get two eggs up on toast and enjoy the quiet. I don’t enjoy going out for breakfast because the food isn’t that extraordinaire. I don’t want pop tarts or foie gras for breakfast. I think breakfast for me is ritualized. I want what I want.
17. Favorite dish on the menu?
Ina: Fried Chicken and Waffles
CFS: Do you eat it often?
Ina: No I don’t have the time and by the time I think about it the day’s over. But, if there’s a mistake, I’ll eat it.
18. You’re a big proponent of being “green” in restaurants. How can people know if their favorite is being eco-friendly?
They can look for the guaranteed green sticker. The website is www.buygreenchicago.org
19. Do you miss just doing Desserts?
I do but I still bake for the restaurant here. I’m actually doing a lot of recipe development for a sugar substitute. I keep my hands in it still.
20. How has this industry changed for women over the past 30 years?
Ina: In Chicago, I don’t think we ever found any glass ceilings. I don’t think it mattered if you were in a hotel or big restaurant group. It’s wonderful to sit with women in the business there is plenty of us.
CFS: I agree there have always been female chefs with restaurants here.
Ina: I don’t think it’s changed more than it’s grown just like the scene has. When you get a Nicole Pederson at C-house doing great things, it’s great. In some ways I’m a pioneer I’ve been doing this for 28yrs.
21. Any plans to run for political office?
Ina: (Immediately) Absolutely (I laugh) perhaps that is what retirement will look like. I’ll campaign on One Term Only – Kick Ass and Get Out!
CFS: What will you run for?
Ina: I’d love to be a US Senator, the state is a disaster. I tried for the 8 weeks when the seat was open. For all we know I won. They didn’t count my votes. They were lazy. I registered in every county in Illinois legitimately and got letters back saying I was on the ballot. I had some people send me pictures of their votes but they weren’t counted. I could have been the 8 week Senator.
CFS: You could have been…
Ina: I could have been a contender!
Thank you Ina for taking the time and providing a wonderful breakfast, I look forward to our next conversation and if you win the next US Senate election I’ll manage the restaurant while you’re in DC.
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Joe is a Chicago based food blogger and his blog is called the Chicago Food Snob. Joe also contributes to Eater Chicago. You can find him on twitter at @chifoodsnob.