Ina Pinkney is a chef, restauranteur and community builder who has lived with polio since childhood. We talk, about food, polio, community and giving back.
Peter Tonge 0:20
Welcome to this episode of talking Rotary. I’m Peter Tonge, and I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleswood.
Mandy Kwasnica 0:26
And I am Mandy Kwasnica Past President and also a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Charleswood. We are so happy you have joined us here and I are so excited for this new podcast and thankful to our many listeners. Let’s start Talking Rotary.
Peter Tonge 1:06
Welcome to another episode of talking Rotary. I’m Peter Tonge, and I’m here with Ina Pinkney. Hi, Ina,, how are you?
Ina Pinkney 1:13
Well, I’m sitting on the 22nd floor of a high rise in Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan. So my life is pretty good right now.
Peter Tonge 1:21
I saw a photo to window. It’s quite the spectacular view.
Ina Pinkney 1:25
Yes, there’s a small golf course. And then there’s a harbor filled with boats. No, and then the lake. It’s an overcast day. But it’s still quite beautiful to look out the window.
Peter Tonge 1:36
Lovely. Now, I’ve been doing a little bit of background research. And I learned that you ran a very popular restaurant for many years told me about that.
Ina Pinkney 1:46
I did, I had no idea what I was doing. And I just did it. And the thing I tried to tell young people that there was great power and being underestimated. So when I opened up, they thought oh, that nice old lady is opening up a breakfast restaurant. And in essence, I changed the landscape of breakfast forever in Chicago by making a fine dining breakfast restaurant. And because I had a free parking lot, everybody came,
Peter Tonge 2:15
okay. Makes a big difference in a big city like Chicago?
Ina Pinkney 2:19
Yes, it does. And it was very, very popular. It was white tablecloth and very quiet, no music. People say when I go into a restaurant, now I should hand them a card and say hi, I’m gonna turn the music down. I think that’s the worst thing that restaurants can do is to just make the sound so bad that you have to really yell to speak to a dinner companion. So we had no nothing in there. And it was quiet. And I always felt that if I went to the trouble of making you nourishing food that it should be in a nurturing environment.
Peter Tonge 2:53
I agree. And I also when I go out with friends or family, I want to have a conversation. That’s part of the reason why we’re out and doing all that.
Ina Pinkney 3:04
Don’t ever be afraid, everybody. Don’t ever be afraid to say Excuse me, can you turn the music down? Don’t ever be afraid to do that. It’s your experience and your dollar?
Peter Tonge 3:13
Well, there’s I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and there’s a couple of restaurants in our city that we don’t go to regularly, not because of the music, but they’re just so popular places. When they get full, they get really loud, and then you start yelling at each other. And that’s no fun.
Ina Pinkney 3:31
No, no, I’m all about when restaurant. restaurant owners asked me you know what they could do better to do better. I always say make sure that you put as much sound absorption materials in your restaurant as possible. And if that means putting these special sound absorption blocks under the table top, put them there, try to put them in the ceiling wherever you can. There’s ways of mitigating that kind of noise. And I don’t know why restaurants don’t spend the money on an acoustical engineer before they even open the door.
Peter Tonge 4:01
Right? And what I find interesting about that, is you’re exactly right. With you went into the restaurant, this is without knowing any of this you that was not your background,
Ina Pinkney 4:10
Right but it was my instinct because I love to eat out and I saw what the really good ones did and the really bad ones did and I knew that I was going to be one of the really good ones. There is a documentary by the way about my restaurant that people can tune into. It’s on Amazon, and it’s called Breakfast at Ina’s. And I think it makes it may charge you $2. 99 but trust me, it’s worth it. I don’t get the money. But I think it’s worth making some popcorn and sitting down for one hour and seeing what a real restaurant should look like.
Peter Tonge 4:42
I can recommend it. It was a joyous it was a joyous film to watch. Clearly everybody that was at your restaurant. I loved being there.
Ina Pinkney 4:51
Oh, thank you so much beautiful watching it. I love that. I love that documentary.
Peter Tonge 4:56
And they enjoyed the experience. The other thing that struck me was was watching it is what a diverse place you had there were people of all kinds of different races, there were straight people that were gay people that was very open and welcoming place. And that drew me in right away.
Ina Pinkney 5:13
And when I started that I was the only truly integrated restaurant in Chicago because it started in 1991. And it was unheard of, you know, you walked into any restaurant and all the diners were white, and all of the servers were male, white men. And then I said, no, this doesn’t, this doesn’t make sense to me. And because we were so welcoming, everybody started to gravitate toward me. So at any given time, you would see the mix that you just spoke of at my restaurant, and everybody treated with incredible respect.
You know, it’s the only retail situation on the planet when someone walks in the door to give you their money. Nobody comes in and says, Do you have those pancakes in blue? They come in to give you their money. And so there’s a really deep respect and obligation that I felt to anybody walking in that door to thank them and to treat them well. Because at the end, I was getting their money. Yes, they were being fed. Well, but that’s, that’s a remarkable retail situation.
Peter Tonge 6:17
Well, I was so struck, because I could I could feel the vibe just from the documentary. I can only imagine what that vibe felt like, in the restaurant. While it was all happening. And everybody was gathering together. It seemed like a positive place.
Ina Pinkney 6:34
It was. David Axelrod planned Barack Obama’s entire first campaign at the back table.
Peter Tonge 6:41
Oh, that’s interesting. I love that. Great to be part of that in a small way.
Ina Pinkney 6:47
Yes, in whateverWay, If I could feed him and give him the nourishment. And then he went on to do what he did. I was thrilled.
Peter Tonge 6:53
Oh, that’s fabulous. Now, because this is a Rotary themed podcast. I guess we should move on to the topic of polio. And I understand you contracted polio at the age of five. Is that right?
Ina Pinkney 7:08
No. 18 months.
Peter Tonge 7:10
Okay, that early?
Ina Pinkney 7:11
Yes. So this was Labor Day in 1944. And when my father came in to take me out of my crib, I tried to stand up, and I couldn’t and I tried again and fell back. And when he touched my forehead and realize that I had a high fever. He knew in that instant that the polio epidemic that was sweeping New York City had come to Brooklyn, New York.
Peter Tonge 7:33
Because your family was in Brooklyn at that time, right? Yes, yes. So for people that aren’t familiar with polio, what was the impact on your life or on your family?
Ina Pinkney 7:46
Well, it was it was enormous, you know, I was marginalized and bullied, and I was ignored. As a child, I had surgeries, I was unable to run and play with the other kids. And what it gave me you know, there’s, it’s always possible to keep two conflicting thoughts in your head, you know, while I hated what was happening to me, because I couldn’t leave the chair I was sitting in, and I was sitting with all the adults, I did learn adult conversation, and I did learn to be a committed listener. And I remember very clearly hearing in those days, this was when I turned six and 1949. And they told me that I was going to the hospital. I remember very clearly hearing that people who went to the hospital did not go to get better, they went to die in 1949. And so I thought they were taking me to die. And the thing that was so interesting is that at six, you can have no grief for life not lived. And I thought whatever this is that I experience every day, I get six of them. And the man they talked about this week got 49 of them. And so there was really nothing frightening about it to me, because I had no greater understanding. So I also had remembered hearing them talk that having a disability was a fate worse than death. And so I, I was very prepared to die at six. And when they, when I woke up after that surgery, I realized that I had a second chance at whatever this was. And so everybody in my life has always gotten a second chance. And it was a very interesting time that I really understood that if I didn’t plot my own course and make my own rules for my life, then I was never going to have a life because the first six years taught me a lot about not being part of a community of children. And so I began to sort of formulate it. I tried really hard to fit in all the time, but that never really worked very well for me. And one of the examples I give is that I had 20 One jobs in my life and I was fired from 19 of them. And it’s because I could never fit the corporate culture. I knew how to do things differently. I could see things in a broader perspective. And my employees in my departments were happier than other employees. And so I had to leave because I was a troublemaker. So I had an interesting life. And I was able to follow my own path, always, always.
Peter Tonge 10:31
And you do have to cut your own path, one of the things that you said to me really rang true because I’m also a person who has a physical disability, and at least on a weekly basis, somebody that doesn’t know me very well says, I couldn’t live the way you do, I would rather die this whole idea of the idea that disability is a fate worse than death. You and I very much know that that’s not the truth. But it seems to be so pervasive, at least in North American culture that, you know, if I have some sort of disability, or what seen is a deficiency, I wouldn’t want to live that way.
Ina Pinkney 11:10
Exactly, exactly. So it was really up to me to figure out how best to navigate and I use that word advisedly, because, excuse me, every thing I do requires navigation, every step I take every plan that I make to leave the apartment, where’s my wheelchair to get me to the door, then I have a scooter that I can go downstairs and take that to the car, I have a special lift in the car to bring my scooter folds up and let the arm picks it up and puts it in the trunk. And then I need my little cane to get to the driver’s side. And then I can drive anywhere. But everything is a thing. Nothing is spontaneous. Nothing is like, Oh, I think I’ll just run down and get the mail. Doesn’t work like that anymore.
Peter Tonge 11:56
No, I agree. Because I do the same planning in my life. And it’s interesting, because this is this is gonna get him going to your car and going and doing things is something that you do probably every day as a matter of course, but you just described to me a five or six step process in order to do that, that we do really without thinking about it. But you know, it’s it really is different than other folks,
Ina Pinkney 12:24
It is. It is it’s very different. I’m very grateful that I have figured out within me, you know how best to do that. I went to New York City a few weeks ago, and I was grieving my New York Life. I lived there for a very long time, because we walked everywhere. And it was nothing. We lived in the village and we would walk to 57th Street from 12th Street and it was like no big deal. And then all of a sudden, it became a big deal. And I couldn’t do that anymore.
So in the 80s, when I was only in my 40s, I started having all kinds of issues that didn’t make sense to me. I had been able to compensate very well, all those years. And there were some people that didn’t notice the extent of my limping until I got married and walked down the aisle. Okay, and then and so everything began to change in the 80s. And I couldn’t understand I would go to a doctor. And they would say, Well, you know, you’re getting older, and I would go Wait, wait a minute, I 40s I’m not getting older in a way that I should be having these feelings. And there’s muscle weakness. And this is sometimes a swallowing issue. I’ve nothing made sense. And I was doing as much research as I could based on the fact that we were pre Google days. And I found that that there was polio International, down in St. Louis. And they were having a big conference. And I got in the car. I was we were in Chicago by then. And I drove down to St. Louis. And when I walked into the grand ballroom of the hotel where it was being held, and I looked around and there were over 300 people with the same kinds of issues. I thought, well, at least I’m not crazy. And everybody began a bit everybody began to explain what was going on with them. And that’s the moment that post polio syndrome, you know, came into the lexicon, that there were definitely things happening to our bodies that we could not explain, except that the polio virus had touched everything in our spinal column. And maybe some of us got some paralysis, and some didn’t. But that’s what was going on.
Peter Tonge 14:35
I’m assuming that getting some sort of diagnosis around post polio syndrome is is difficult, because so many, it’s dismisses so many other things.
Ina Pinkney 14:48
And every time I would go to a doctor, they look like they were 12 years old, and they would say polio, and I would say listen, I know post. Polio was not a very sexy disease because it’s sort of we don’t talk about In America after 1956, you know, hardly anybody got it? And I said, so I understand what you’re telling me. But something’s not right. I just heard from a woman who’s adopted to think she has ALS, and she doesn’t have ALS. You know, she has post polio. So I’ve hooked her up with a doctor here in Chicago. And I sent a very interesting thing a couple of weeks ago, I don’t know, do you get jeopardy the TV show? Absolutely. So a couple two weeks ago, the Final Jeopardy was that the answer to it was polio. And none of the contestants knew what it was it was about the late effects of a disease. And some man posted on the Facebook chat room that we belong to. He said, Now I know what’s wrong with my father, we didn’t even know there was a name for this. And I sent to my post-polio doc who wrote back the the most important sentence, he said, most doctors don’t know about it. Yeah. And that’s really where the issue lies. And so that’s where a bunch of us got together and decided we’re going to try to change that. And, and try to figure out how we can get more awareness, and acknowledgement and information and resources out to people who are polio survivors who are struggling with this.
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Peter Tonge 16:44
Now is that part of the reason why you decided to work with rotary and do your speaking circles with with us and that kind of thing.
Ina Pinkney 16:52
I’ve been a part of Rotary now for I think it was started when I had the restaurant and the restaurants been closed for eight years. So maybe 10 years, and I’m a member of Rotary One downtown. And all of a sudden, people started asking me to tell my story. And what I come and do it, and I am happy to do it. But the primary reason I’m there is to thank every Rotarian for every minute they have spent and every dollar they have raised, so that there would be a global eradication in my lifetime. I mean, that is they everybody has donor fatigue. People say why should we keep raising money, you know, polio is not here in the States. And so it’s it’s really been wonderful for me to be able to see people in person, you know, 300 people, 400 people and say, Thank you. That’s really why I do what I do.
Peter Tonge 17:48
Right. Now, this is a discussion that we’ve, we have in my house often. What do you think rotaries next big role is as far as polio goes, let’s assume that we do manage to eradicate the disease itself in the next little while, say the next 10 years. What what refocus should be next, do you think.
Ina Pinkney 18:12
You must think about the survivors remember, in the 80s, there were 350,000 cases around the world, not here, right? So polio survivors really need a lot of support, especially since those people are starting to get post-polio as well. So I think there’s going to be a lot of need, and we need to identify it. And maybe there’s grants for for motorized wheelchairs, and maybe there’s all kinds of things we can do in terms of educating the medical profession. I mean, my goal now is to get a hold of the heads of medical schools and put myself in there and talk to the the students who will become doctors and say, Here I am, and there’s maybe a half a million of us here in the US and you’re gonna, you’re gonna hear from us, and you won’t know what to do. So let me tell you about this. So that’s really where I’m gonna sit, put a little bit of my focus.
Peter Tonge 19:08
I think I think that that’s a fantastic thing. I have a little bit of experience there. My wife is a university professor that teaches disability studies. And one of the things that she does twice a year is she speaks to the local medical school, doctors dealing with people with disabilities. But the but the 45 minutes or an hour that she spends with them in their medical training in the first year is really the only exposure they get to disability.
Ina Pinkney 19:38
And they never get to talk to a survivor.
Peter Tonge 19:40
I know and it’s it’s kind of, well, I would go as far as to say it’s frightening to us that that’s the level of exposure that they got. So no wonder they
Ina Pinkney 19:51
Tell her I’m happy to join her the next time she’s talking.
Peter Tonge 19:54
I think she would love that and the the little the little story that she uses that I love and she’ll, she’ll always ask the class. So let’s say there’s 200 medical students, and she says, Well, how many people in this class have a disability and today in 2021, or 2020, do, there might be one or two medical students that put up their hand and say that they have some form of disability. And then she says, everybody, okay, I want everybody to take their eyeglasses off. And go, Well, who has a disability now? And then there’s a whole discussion about how some things are considered a disability, and things like like eyeglasses and whatever aren’t seen as a disability aid, because they become part of the culture. Right? All right, and just sort of get them thinking that way.
Ina Pinkney 20:47
He’s so right. That’s a great way to eliminate it great way. Most people don’t know when I traveled, I did a lot of traveling for the movie when the documentary was in 48, film festivals. And I would meet people along the way, who would lean in and quietly say, you know, I had polio, but my family said, We shouldn’t talk about it, then because it was such a terrible thing. So we never really talked about it. And I said, and now she goes, Well, I still don’t mention it. And I said, Are you having any post polio symptoms? And she goes, Yeah, but I just don’t talk about it. And then I say, Do you have any siblings? And they would say yes. And I’d say, so your brother who’s you know, two years younger than you? Was he having any kind of muscle weakness and things like that? And she looked at me like I was a magician. And she said, Yes. And like that. If totally, if you had polio, he had a touch of it as well. And if your family could remember, when you got it, they thought he had a cold or the flu. And so he’s now having post-polio being dead, because he didn’t have any paralysis doesn’t mean he didn’t have a touch of it. Right. So there’s a world of information that is not being shared.
Peter Tonge 22:02
I know, I know. So. So. I was an ally, how can we help Rotary and other organizations sort of move down that post-polio path, because I really do think that’s the way to go.
Ina Pinkney 22:18
I do too. And I know, I took a note here. So right now there is a polio Action Group. And it’s called, but we’re trying to come up with a post-polio advocacy. I know there’s a lot of members of that. That action group that Leanne Hussey who’s also a survivor has, so we’re just now forming a steering committee, and we’re coming up with our mission statement, and then we will roll it out, and then see how well the clubs can identify survivors in their community.
Peter Tonge 22:54
Great, please keep me in the loop because my wife and I both think that that’s a Rotary has a very important role to play in the post polio story.
Ina Pinkney 23:05
Yeah, I agree completely. I agree.
Peter Tonge 23:07
Because it’s that that’s sort of, that’s sort of the next phase, if I can call it that in my own mind, because there are hundreds of thounds of people out there that are gonna need support.
Ina Pinkney 23:19
Yes. And we’re so close to, to the eradication. So that will be a great day, of course, but knowing how many people have suffered, and I would love to be able to go to India and and do a vaccination trip. And I’m trying to plan on that one day. Nice. Hopefully,
Peter Tonge 23:39
it will, hopefully it will happen. Apparently, I’ve interviewed a couple of people that have been on the trips. Apparently, they’re quite the event.
Ina Pinkney 23:47
I would think so. I would think so. Can you imagine? I don’t know how my disability will affect you know, my navigation there is that word again? I’m not sure. So, I’m researching that now.
Peter Tonge 24:00
Well, my first reaction to that is hopefully you can find a fixer that can help smooth things along the way, you know, halfway around the world because that’s when it becomes a challenge. Traveling in your own country or in North America is one thing starting to go outside of North America is another level of challenge.
Ina Pinkney 24:20
This winter was hard going to New York City. I mean, the taxi cab is a very high level high step to get into these yellow cab very high. And if the cab driver was in kind and got out of his car and got a step stool for me, it was a real challenge. So it’s not just everywhere else. It’s here as well. Yeah, for sure.
Peter Tonge 24:42
For sure. Now, you don’t impress me I’m as somebody that sits still so besides the speaking as you’re doing for Rotary and you’re post-polio planning what’s coming up next in your life?
Ina Pinkney 24:58
Well, there’s an on-line food platform called The Takeout. And it’s owned by the same media company that does the Onion and Gizmodo and other things, right. And they have been into my apartment and I have been making videos for them with products that are direct to consumer, I am not an Amazon fan. And so I don’t ever want people to buy it from there. But companies are doing great innovation. And if you buy it directly from the company, these are not grocery store products and not on the shelves, you have to get it from a company. And if you can support them, then they have more money for innovation. So I’ve made seven of them. Two of them have been posted already. And right now one is on the the newsletter called The takeout. And it’s about this plant based milk substitute that I found that is better than anything. Wow. It’s quite good. The takeout and you’ll look for is this the best plant based milk substitute. You’re taking notes?
Peter Tonge 26:03
I am while I’m recording. So I’ll go back and find it. That’s my, that’s my favorite thing about zoom, I record everything and then go back and figure it out later. Even if I’m doing a board meeting or whatever, I don’t have to be taking notes about who’s ying and yang along the way.
Ina Pinkney 26:21
That’s very good. That’s very good. Tell me a little about your club.
Peter Tonge 26:26
We have about 50 Members, we’re in the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, which is a city of about 700,000 people. So by Canadian standards, it’s a fairly large city. We have a couple of things that we’ve done for many, many years, we we have actually in our city, we have a very large urban forest, in our Rotary club is the official keeper of the urban forest. That’s really interesting. And we’re just in the process now of actually a 10 year project to sort of revitalize the forest because it’s been around for a number of years, and it needs some work done. So we’re doing new signage and new walkways, making it more accessible for people with disabilities, for example.
Ina Pinkney 27:14
That’s fabulous. I was gonna ask about that. That’s at least something that people have been thinking about Yeah,
Peter Tonge 27:20
Yeah to raise that awareness and the main one was done. For 1000 years, we only ever do one fundraiser and we do a huge lobster dinner every year. And, and 34 or 5 years ago, the very first one happened in somebody’s backyard and a couple of picnic tables. And last time we had an in person one, we had more than 700 people there. So.
Ina Pinkney 27:48
i just read read an article that the lobster fishermen are having a tough time because the price per pound has gone down so much
Peter Tonge 27:55
the price has gone down. And of course the price of fuel and all that stuff has gone up. difficult year. Very difficult. But it’s why that’s the reason I mentioned is one thing that I love about our club is that we do that one fundraiser, and we do it well, because we’ve done it for more than 30 years, which means we’re not out hockey fruitcakes and magazines and all those sorts of smaller ones. I like that let’s work really hard on one big one and, and fund what we do.
Ina Pinkney 28:29
That’s a great idea. And yeah, period, there’s something that I’m going to ask you, you can always edit it out. But since we’re we’re you know, we have the luxury of that. This is something that I speak at all of my rotary talks, and it’s F after I talk about the beginning of my of when I got polio. And when I turned six, I always think because you even asked me How would my life have been different? Or what did I learn from all of this? If I could have written myself a letter, my six year old self a letter to tell her what life could be, despite what the adults were telling me about how my life was over in many ways. I just wish I could have done that. So when I did my first rotary talk about this, I sat down I wrote my six year old self a letter which I would like to read to you.
Peter Tonge 29:20
Oh yeah, please go of course, please share it.
Ina Pinkney 29:23
My dear. I know. You’re going to begin your life in the hardest way you can imagine polio at 18 months which will lead to a childhood being marginalized, excuse me marginalized, ignored, ostracized and bullied. You will learn your first lesson when you understand that you are kinder than those around you. Your father will be the one who instills in you that you only have to get up one more time than you fall. He will always be there to part another red sea of impossibility. You will marry Bill Pinkney who will be famous for saying sailing around the world solo, and when you understand his best life will be spent on the sea and yours on land. Divorce him 36 years later, you will each leave the marriage better people that when you began it, and neither of you will ever forget why you loved each other. Your life experiences we’ll read like a novel and seem a dream to many. You will hang out with Maya Angelou in Greenwich Village dance with Fred Astaire. go skydiving class 10 whitewater rafting and scuba diving. You will escape the Alps and the Rockies on your one good leg feed Julia Child Wolfgang Puck and most Chicago chefs who will grow before your eyes and make this city a world class food destination. You will experience great kindness from Anthony Bourdain wipe the brow of Mikhail Baryshnikov in the wings of the ballet appear on a global livestream on world polio day to speak about the Global Polio Eradication Initiative for the Gates Foundation and rotary and Bill Gates will follow you on Twitter. You will try hard to find your place in corporate America having 21 jobs and getting fired from 19 of them. But learning something from each one that you will need and use later. You will be fearless I know but never reckless. And always see yourself as the causative agent in your story. Never the victim. You’ll bake your first cake at age 37 and find a strange and exciting joy in that. From that one cake you will build a baking kitchen, teach yourself how to bake and create a dessert catering business in 1980. When that does not exist, you will open your restaurant at age 48 and realize there is great power in being underestimated. I in his kitchen will change the landscape of breakfasts forever in Chicago and it will matter. You will ultimately be known as an entrepreneur way ahead of her time, who created the smoking ban in Chicago, co founded the Green Restaurant coalition and found a recipe for success and compassion, exact thing standards and sheer willpower eyeness kitchen will become a theater piece and a stage upon which the aina will be reborn. Every life changing experience you will have every person you will meet the family of choice you will assemble will enter through that door. You will try with all your mind to fit in and like most polio survivors past been normal for many years until the late effects of polio take their toll, first with a brace than a cane than a walker. Now a scooter after a 33 year career that will bring you much joy and heartache. You will find your exit strategy and pivot to new and exciting ways to use your no knowledge and experience. You will write a memoir of cookbook called ins kitchen memories and recipes from the breakfast queen. You will be the subject of an award winning documentary called breakfast at eyeness. Now on Amazon, you will write a monthly column in the Chicago Tribune about breakfast breakfast with China. Companies will hire you to speak at conferences about breakfast, you will finally get to eat breakfast. But you will love the most other relationships that will sustain you, especially with the Rotarians you will meet each time you are invited to speak, you will treat each invitation to share your story as an honor. And you will accept it because you will feel the grace of all you have tried to accomplish and are not six years old, and no longer afraid that you will never belong.
Peter Tonge 33:54
Oh, I know you’ve definitely blog. And you’ve cut the path for so many others. That’s the that’s the interesting part for for me too, and continue to support people with polio and post polio syndrome and all that. I mean, that’s, that’s remarkable. And that’s, you got to be proud of that.
Ina Pinkney 34:14
Thank you. I’m very proud of the life fight I have led.
Peter Tonge 34:19
Nice to have that letter to pull out on “those days”.
Ina Pinkney 34:25
Right “those days”? I know. I know.
Peter Tonge 34:29
You know exactly what I’m saying what I say thst.
Ina Pinkney 34:31
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Peter Tonge 35:00
I’m very, very curious because as you say, you were you were in the restaurant breakfast business for a long time. So breakfast was probably grab and go thing for you. Now that you have the time, if you get to sit down and either be served your favorite breakfast or make your favorite breakfast, what is it?
Ina Pinkney 35:21
So when I close the restaurant, and people would ask me that, and I had to admit that every day for several months, and I mean that literally, all I could think of making was two eggs that was sunny side up and kind of frizzled at the edges. Really good coffee and great toast with sweet butter. I ate the same thing every day, because that was the one meal I could never get at my own restaurant. I could never get perfect eggs served hot and fresh toast with butter. Hey, yo,
Peter Tonge 35:55
I love it. The other thing that I noticed in the in the documentary and you talked about your exacting standards is you said in. In other businesses, people have the luxury of taking extra time and whatever. In my restaurant, if you make an order, I want your meal on the table at 18 minutes. And that really struck me that you worked very hard to keep those exacting standards. So people came in, they knew what they were going to get.
Ina Pinkney 36:27
You nobody ever felt rushed. Nobody ever felt rushed. But we knew that it’s the first meal of the day, people’s blood sugar was low. Sometimes they were a little cranky because they were hungry. And so once we sat them down, we’d give them a little basket of bread so that they would eat something and their blood sugar would go back up. And it was always freshly squeezed juice really good coffee or espresso drinks. And once they gave that order, 18 minutes later that food was out and they were happy to have it. And so they would eat it. Nobody was rushed. But they will gone in an hour and five minutes. And that was great. Because a lot of a lot of places give them an hour and a half to an hour 40 though I needed to turn tables, but I could never push you out. Never, you know, but I knew you were hungry. So the faster I got the food to you, the happier you would be,
Peter Tonge 37:19
Of course. Now I’m curious as we’re talking about this, you sort of learned the restaurant business on on the go it was wasn’t your drink? Well, I’d have all those years, what was the biggest surprise in the business that you’d never thought of when you started?
Ina Pinkney 37:40
The biggest surprise, one good one bad. The biggest surprise was I had no idea how much people would love that restaurant. I just knew I was trying to do the right thing every day, I just I send out a newsletter the first of every month. I’ll send you a copy of this when it dropped yesterday. And people write to me because it goes in an email and they hit it and they go, Oh, we miss your restaurant so much. Now mind you, it’s been closed for over eight years. And people still say that. So that is on the good part. I had no idea how employees would bring all their bad habits with them from other places. That was always disheartening to me. Oh, what is that they had such a lack of care because nobody had ever corrected them. Nobody ever said. You walk up to the table. And I never want to hear you say how you guys doing today? I never want to hear that. This is white tablecloth, this is fine dining. The silverware is heavy, you know, it’s restaurant quality, heavy, beautiful, the glassware. I said I don’t want to hear you guys. When one young woman who was a really good service, she couldn’t break that habit. And at the end of service one day I call her over and I said Monica. So you remember table 35? And she said oh yeah, they were they were really nice. I said they were for women? And she said yes. I said and you walked over there. And you said How you guys doing today? I said one of them was the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. And the other three wood judges. This is your last day?
Peter Tonge 39:22
Well, good for you for keeping the standard. But you know, Oh, I understand. But I this is to say I the only thing I know about your restaurant is our conversation and the documentary and I could just feel the positivity from the play. The other thing that struck me is that when you were done, you made the decision to close the restaurant as opposed to sell it or whatever. Can you talk to me about that decision?
Ina Pinkney 39:52
Selling the restaurant means that you would sell the name and then if you were a regular customer, and you knew I sold it And you came in a month or two later, and the servers had dirty aprons and the bread wasn’t the same bread and the coffee was not made the same way, you would just not be happy that I know how to let it go. And there was no way that I would leave without the integrity of what I had built, then, and so it was very important to me to close. Now, you notice in the last scenes there, my walking was very labored. And I did not use a cane when I was in the restaurant, because I didn’t want to trip anybody. And so I would walk from the back table where you would you saw me writing checks and things like that. And then I would walk to the front stop, but a few tables, but I couldn’t stand very long. And then when I got to the front, there was a stool there, where I could sit behind the counter and greet everybody as they came in. And then I could walk to the back again. So that was my path. That was my navigation. And I knew that I did not have another year in May. On January 1, every year, I would say do I have another year in me knowing what that year would look like and feel like to my body and my soul. And that year 2013 I went, No, I don’t have another year in May I can do this. And then I announced in September that I was closing at the end of the year.
Peter Tonge 41:14
And as I say, when I when I saw that decision, that’s what I thought to myself is that you were sort of protecting the restaurant and the integrity of the restaurant. And I thought that was such a such a wise choice, because I assume it would have been financially beneficial to you to sell things on. But the name of the restaurant and your reputation was more important.
Ina Pinkney 41:41
Much more important. My name was on the door. Yeah, I learned that my father, my father’s father died when my father was very young. And he came over from Russia. And he opened up a butcher shop in Philadelphia. And he was obviously a very early adopter of technology, which I have in me. And he was the first REME butcher shop in Philadelphia to have water cooled coils in the meat locker instead of bales of hay covered ice. And my father always said that his father said, people will always trust you if they see your name on the door. So I have named it Ina’s.
Peter Tonge 42:22
I think I think that’s brilliant. And I also think is is very true. So our podcasts and you may have noticed this because you’ve done a little bit of listening. We only have one standard question in our podcast. And that is you could be giving your time and energy to lots of organization, the white rotary
Ina Pinkney 42:42
Rotary because of polio eradication, without question. It’s always been on my mind. And it’s now we’re getting so close that I needed to be part of whatever the ending was.
Peter Tonge 42:57
That’s great. And thank you for your contributions because they’re very large and very important. I really appreciate it.
Ina Pinkney 43:04
My pleasure today kita. My pleasure.
Peter Tonge 43:07
Thank you so much.
Mandy Kwasnica 43:34
Thank you so much for joining us on another great episode of talking Rotary. We would love to hear from you. Please send us your comments and story ideas and you can share with us easily by sending us an email at feedback at talking rotary.org Let’s keep talking Rotary.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai