Pinky and Red’s founder seeks donations to cover cancer expenses

Photo of Pinky & Reds
Jenna Wong/File
Popular restaurant Pinky & Red’s has been a central component of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union since August 2018, specializing in “soulful comfort food” drawn from founder Bernadine "Pinky" Sewell’s family recipes. According to Sewell, participating in the UC Berkeley campus and surrounding community meant being part of a family.

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Bernadine “Pinky” Sewell, founder of popular campus restaurant Pinky & Red’s, was diagnosed with colon cancer in August and has set up a GoFundMe page to cover her medical and living expenses.

Sewell, who underwent her last surgery Dec. 14, will begin chemotherapy this month. Although much of her time is spent in bed and often in pain, Sewell said she maintains her spirits throughout the process.

“Last week my goal was to be able to get out of the bed and walk to the bathroom,” Sewell said. “You know, you really realize how important those little things you do every day, you take for granted.”

Pinky & Red’s has been a mainstay of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union since August 2018. The eatery, which specializes in “soulful comfort food” drawn from generations of Sewell’s family recipes, was forced to close its doors in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the restaurant’s website. Sewell said she intends to pivot the business to an online model, although the plans have been hindered by her health.

Sewell has given generously to the Berkeley community, according to UC Berkeley School of Law student Sara Tsai, who described the restaurant owner as “simply the loveliest person you will ever meet.”

“Pinky has shown nothing but love to the community, from donating food to greeting every student with a warm smile,” Tsai said. “Her brainchild Pinky & Red’s not only serves delicious fried chicken and mac ‘n cheese to hungry Cal Bears, but also gives everyone a place they know they will be welcome. Now, it’s our turn to return that same love and support to Pinky by helping her during her medical journey.”

Sewell donates regularly to the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and held a Thanksgiving dinner for students who could not afford a meal or a ticket home, according to Tsai.

During the 2019 power outages, Sewell said Pinky & Red’s was left with an excess of food that was set to spoil.

“I called all these different clubs and organizations and just said, ‘Hey, come on down here, let’s cook this stuff up, take it back to your clubs and feed them,’ ” Sewell said.

Participating in the UC Berkeley campus and surrounding community meant being part of a family, according to Sewell. Contributors to her GoFundMe page noted her delicious sandwiches, her warm greetings and her generosity with her comfort food to students in need of a study snack or a taste of home.

As of press time, the fundraising site has accumulated almost $15,400 of its $250,000 goal.

“We’re all going through, and we’re all suffering,” Sewell said. “Just got to learn how to pivot the business and get it back up, get my health back up, and just thank you to all the wonderful people who are donating, still got a long way to go, with the needs and assistance that I need, but I’m just very grateful and very thankful.”

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.