CHICAGO (CBS) — Ina Pinkney’s famous West Loop restaurant might be closed, but the Morning Insiders learned her years of good will are being rewarded at a time she needs it most.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole checked in with the chef, who said the gestures from the city’s culinary workers are taking her by surprise.
For decades, Pinkney reigned supreme as Chicago’s “Breakfast Queen.”
“I have always been a very active person, despite my disability,” she said.
Behind her intoxicating smile and the “Heavenly Hots” pancakes she served with pride at Ina’s Kitchen, there was a side of Pinkney’s life most never noticed.
“I had polio when I was 18 months old, and over the course of my life my walking has become more challenging,” Pinkney said.
She didn’t let the polio slow her down. It didn’t stop her from skydiving, running for the U.S. Senate, or standing on one good and one bad leg for three decades in the grueling restaurant world.
Four years into retirement, Pinkney is not moving differently. A severe fall last winter has her using a wheelchair, and going to therapy more than she’d like.
“I broke the polio leg, so a compromised leg is now even more compromised,” she said.
In the culinary newsletter she writes, Pinkney shared, “It shakes me to the core. … I can’t see the top of the stove nor the bottom of the sink.”
She never expected what would happen next. Hundreds began reaching out to help her with chores or transportation.
“I was stunned by it,” Pinkney said. “It was coming at me because I needed help, but I had never asked for help.”
Many were from the city’s restaurant industry; dear friends and folks she barely knew dropping off meals, or taking time to visit and cook in her kitchen.
“Phillip Foss came over and made me a frittata one morning,” she said. “We’re talking serious Michelin chefs coming over to my house and making me food.”
“She is like a cup of sunshine,” Foss said.
From his kitchen at EL Ideas, Foss said it’s the result of Pinkney being a selfless mentor to so many.
“She’s floored a lot of people in her lifetime. So it’s time for that favor to be returned,” Foss said.
The owners of Haisous – Tai and Danielle Dang – have placed a plaque for Pinkney on the side of a table at their restaurant. They know Pinkney as a warm business adviser, and role model on how to treat others.
“Ina connects with people in a different way. It’s really from her heart, and you feel it in her presence,” Danielle Dang said.
Pinkney also looked out for the young couple; sending food to their home, and helping them find time for each other. They’re happy to be there for her now.
“When you pour out so much love like that, it’s just automatic that you return it,” Tai Dang said.
For the Breakfast Queen, it’s become an unexpected jewel in her crown.
“What it taught me in terms of outpouring of love is that love is available to every one of us. We just have to give it out,” Pinkney said.
More than two dozen of the city’s best-known chefs have organized a fundraiser brunch for Pinkney next month. It sold out in just a few days.