What's for breakfast?

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 4/4/17

Chicago’s “Breakfast Queen” couldn’t be more excited to take a ferry ride and visit Port Townsend. She’ll be here to attend Women & Film, which on Sunday, April 9 is screening a …

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What's for breakfast?


Chicago’s “Breakfast Queen” couldn’t be more excited to take a ferry ride and visit Port Townsend. She’ll be here to attend Women & Film, which on Sunday, April 9 is screening a documentary that chronicles the final month at a restaurant she established and ran for 22 years.

“This is kind of magical for this last chapter of my life,” said Ina Pinkney, whose story is told in “Breakfast at Ina’s.”

“It’s so exciting for me to come to new places.”

Port Townsend Film Festival (PTFF) director Janette Force had originally thought of the documentary, which she said is a celebration of all that’s right in the world, for the festival’s main engagement last September.

But when that didn’t work out, she decided to book it for PTFF’s female-focused spring event.

“When we got the call that we could be in Women & Film, [director Mercedes Kane] was over the moon,” Pinkney said, “and if she weren’t due to have a baby tomorrow, she would be here.”


Set for April 8-9, Women & Film focuses on, as the name suggests, women and their role in the filmmaking industry – either as directors, producers or subjects.

The event originated in 2015 as a way to show films that couldn’t fit into the three-day festival in September; specifically films that focused on women, as women are increasingly directing more films, Force said.

“The true magic for us is connecting this tiny village to the great big world with film. ‘Ina’ is a fine example.”

“Breakfast at Ina’s” chronicles the last month of business at Pinkney’s restaurant, which closed Dec. 31, 2013.

Kane approached Pinkney about filming a documentary after reading about the restaurant’s closing and being inspired to tell more of Pinkney’s story.

“We made two promises that day when we met,” Pinkney said. “I promised to tell an open and honest story, and they promised to tell that story with integrity.” Those promises were kept.

The story Pinkney told was one that was a surprise for many. “When you came to the restaurant, there was no room at the table for my story,” she said. “It was about you and the experience that I wanted you to have.”

One element of her life was that she’d survived polio at 18 months old, which has left her immobilized. “They had no idea the depth of the disability,” she said. She’d also been in an interracial marriage, something “unheard of” in the ’60s.

When Pinkney watched the documentary for the first time, she said she had to view it four times before she fully understood it.

“The first couple of times, all I could see were the images. I couldn’t get the storyline – I couldn’t find the art,” she said. “But the fourth time, I sat back and I really, really heard it. It was overwhelming in its kindness.”


Pinkney opened her namesake restaurant in 1991 at the age of 48, after having run a bakery that evolved from a surprise-birthday-cake delivery service she’d started at 37. Before that, she’d held 21 different jobs. (As to how many of those jobs she was fired from, she wants people to find out by watching the film – “It’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ – I don’t want to give away the ending,” she said.)

After eating nothing but “grim” breakfasts in the ’80s – insipid coffee and greasy eggs – she began to wonder why no restaurant could make a great breakfast.

“I thought, ‘I can do that,’” she said.

“And I did.”

Not only did she create a “mini empire” of eateries that served several generations of Chicagoans, she also was ahead of every curve, she said. She had biodegradable plastic to-go containers, made the restaurant a no-smoking zone and also led the ban on smoking in her state, and didn’t allow cell phones.

“If I’m going through the trouble of making you nourishing food, it has to be in a nurturing environment,” she said.

Pinkney grew up in a kosher home with a mother who didn’t like to cook. She remembers eating her first BLT at the age of 8. “I looked at my mother and said, ‘What else are they keeping from us?’” she said of her kosher upbringing.

“I didn’t come to my love of food until I grew up and moved out of my house.”


A restaurant was not only platform for her to make change in her state but also a place for people to work so that they could take care of their families.

And of course, it was a place to feed people.

For Pinkney – who’s now suffering what she calls “post-traumatic restaurant disorder,” or PTRD – it was all about those people.

“I loved the people; the human connection was unbeatable,” she said.

“I was in a very unique position to have fed so many people.”

Though Pinkney said she’d discourage anyone from opening a restaurant – it’s one of the most difficult industries, and it’s not getting any easier, she said – her advice to anyone starting on any endeavor is this: Plan an exit strategy.

“Here’s what young people don’t know,” she said. “They don’t know that you have to have an exit strategy long in advance of the exit.” Pinkney said she began planning her exit strategy the day she opened the restaurant, and “rolled it out with military precision” in a plan that included a four-month good-bye to customers.

And it was that last day, not the first, that was the most important, she said. It’s on that day, she said, that you have to look at your employees and customers and ask yourself if you did your job with honesty and integrity.

“Can you look [at them] and say, ‘I did right by you’?”


Pinkney is now writing food reviews, but only of places she likes – “It’s not my job to hurt anybody.” She’s set to attend a 1:15 p.m. screening of “Breakfast at Ina’s” at The Rose Theatre. (For those who don’t have passes, $15 rush tickets for unfilled seats are sold at the door 15 minutes prior to screening.) And hopefully – audience members will have had something to eat before that screening, because, as Pinkney says, “you really need to start to the day with food.”

For more information about Women & Film, visit



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