Sweet Dreams: Ina Pinkney Turns From Dessert to Breakfast

If personality alone could ensure a restaurant’s success, the newly opened Ina’s Kitchen at 934 W. Webster already would be a big winner. The force behind–and predominant presence inside–this airy 48-seat breakfast spot and retail bakery is Ina Pinkney, a short, rotund woman with a shock of gray hair, an infectious smile, bright blue eyes, and an answer for everything. Those who know Pinkney compare her to Elaine Kaufman, the colorful figure who turned the New York City dining spot that bears her first name into a well-publicized hangout for some of the city’s biggest literary and show-business types.

For almost ten years, Pinkney operated the Dessert Kitchen at 721 W. Wrightwood, where she offered strictly made-to-order sweet treats for take-out, delivery, or shipping. Pinkney’s fame was assured when her Blobb, a mouth-watering cross between a chewy brownie and a nutty chocolate cookie, was lauded in the pages of the New York Times. The publicity brought Pinkney hundreds of new fans nationwide.

Though the Dessert Kitchen flourished, Pinkney eventually began to tire of the grueling routine. “After a while,” she explains, “baking 30 pans of brownies a week is not fun.” She also longed for more sustained contact with her ever-growing list of regular customers. So the dessert maven began formulating plans for Ina’s Kitchen, a small restaurant that would be open only in the morning and early afternoon and serve breakfast and her popular baked goods. “It was a niche I thought I could fill that was not crowded with competitors in the city,” says Pinkney.

The breakfast restaurant idea also seemed to make good economic sense to Pinkney and her business partner Elaine Farrell, a former real estate broker. At a time when diners are watching every penny they spend, says Pinkney, “a lot of people can’t afford $30 for a nice dinner, but they can come here and feel special spending $10 for a breakfast.”

Though Ina’s Kitchen is Pinkney’s first foray into the tricky world of restaurants, she talks confidently. “Owners need to pay a lot of attention to service,” says Pinkney, who claims that’s how she built up her Dessert Kitchen business. “If someone needed a cake delivered at 10:05 AM, I was there ringing the doorbell at 10:04.” That tradition continues. During our conversation, Pinkney disappeared for a few minutes to entertain an antsy child so the adults at a nearby table could eat their meals in peace.

Pinkney has delegated the cooking, baking, and serving chores at Ina’s Kitchen; she works the front of the room. Head chef Elizabeth Wiley, a recent arrival from a small Ohio town, had never been a breakfast chef before Ina’s opened a month ago. She and Pinkney have devised a menu with a number of variations on traditional dishes: whole wheat oatmeal pancakes, vegetable hash, corn, black bean, and cheese scrapple with eggs and chorizo sausage, and a noodle and vegetable frittata. Many of Pinkney’s breads and sweets are available both in the restaurant and at the adjacent walk-up counter.

No investor consortium is backing Ina’s Kitchen; instead Pinkney and Farrell have a group of supporters who loaned the duo a substantial portion of the restaurant’s start-up funds. Additional money was solicited from Pinkney’s loyal Dessert Kitchen customers; in return for every $10 Pinkney received, she issued $11 in “Ina Bucks,” which can be redeemed at Ina’s Kitchen after January 1. As always, management, reviews, and word of mouth will largely determine whether Ina’s Kitchen succeeds in an arena where the failure rate is high. Inevitably Pinkney and Farrell (who’s also new to running a restaurant) will have to make adjustments as they go along. Already some customers have said menu pricing is too steep for a neighborhood breakfast spot (sour cream pancakes, for instance, are $6), and early response to a limited selection of lunch specials has not been overwhelming. But for the moment at least, Pinkney is savoring the opportunity to serve her friends and try to make her mark in the restaurant business.

Reconstructing Annie II

Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre is banking on the success of Annie Warbucks, the sequel to the megahit musical Annie that has survived a critical drubbing and considerable rewriting on the rocky road to Broadway. Veteran director Martin Charnin, who also staged the original Broadway version of Annie, will direct the sequel at Marriott’s Lincolnshire starting January 29 with the expectation of polishing it for a long-anticipated Broadway debut. Should the sequel finally hit pay dirt in New York, Marriott’s Lincolnshire will share in the rewards. “We’ve got a piece of the action,” says Marriott’s producer Kary Walker, though he wouldn’t get into specifics.

Initially known as Annie II: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, the musical was savaged by critics during a pre-Broadway tryout in early 1990 at the Kennedy Center, where the show closed before reaching New York. It wasn’t expected to resurface, but Charnin and fellow creators Charles Strouse and Thomas Meehan reconvened and presented a completely reworked version in the summer of 1990 at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. Since that workshop, about 40 percent of the show has been rewritten again in preparation for the Marriott’s Lincolnshire opening. Annie’s nemesis, Miss Hannigan, has been written out of the story, which now concerns the search for a new mother for the orphan. If all goes well in Lincolnshire, Charnin will have to reblock the show for a Broadway proscenium house after the in-the-round run at Marriott’s Lincolnshire. He intends to cast most of the show in Chicago but is bringing in a couple of New York actors, including Lauren Gaffney in the title role.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.