Carrying on the family legacy

Joseph Brown | The ItemPinky’s To-Go co-owner Crystal Harrison is helping revitalize her mother’s soul food restaurant in eastern Huntsville.

After a two-year hiatus, Pinky and Crystal Harrison are bringing their family’s homestyle southern cooking back to the community under a new legacy at Pinky’s To-Go.

It was the call of the community that motivated the Harrisons’ decision to revive the family business in January. However, after Pinky’s struggles with her disability to stand on her own, rheumatoid arthritis and the wear and tear of being a five-year breast cancer survivor, Pinky’s To-Go is making its comeback under a new generation.

The business’ namesake has chosen to take a step back, instead grooming her daughter to take over as co-owner, manager and chef, while offering a guiding hand when needed and kicking her feet up to be on the receiving end of her own recipes for once.

“I’m new to the block, but I would say that I’m very proud of myself because I haven’t had a complaint yet,” Crystal said.

“Together, it’s just phenomenal, people just love the food, they think I’m cooking it. It all came from my recipes, but I really can’t wait to announce that she is the new chef up there. Although my name is on the building, the cooking is really coming from Crystal,” Pinky added. “It makes me feel good because I can sit back and I can enjoy her cooking that tastes like my cooking.”

Since their grand re-opening in May, the mother-daughter duo, with the help of Pinky’s son, are starting off small, opening only three days a week, Wednesday through Friday. They sell out of their daily specials of deep fried pork chops smothered in gravy, braised oxtails in a savory gravy and the beef tips, a must try, according to the owners. Meatloaf will be added to this week’s menu, served with their cornbread muffins and a choice of their green beans, rice, corn, mashed potatoes, yams, pinto beans or mashed potatoes for a side. Desserts change between a classic southern pecan pie and banana pudding.

It’s a long way to come, considering that at 30 years-old, Crystal admits to having had no knowledge of how to cook, adding that she “couldn’t even fry a piece of chicken” before her newfound motherhood and family inspired her to take up the craft. Now, she’s keeping her family’s traditions alive, passing on the flavors of her mother’s southern cooking for her son and the family’s future generations to enjoy.

“I was just so inspired by my mom because I’ve just seen how much she enjoyed doing it and it just inspired me to want to do what she does to live on her legacy,” Crystal said.

“My mom has always cooked for us since I was a baby, she’s cooked for her sisters and brothers when she was younger, she was the one who cooked for the home, she made all of the meals for them. They loved her cooking and everyone in the family has always wanted my mom to cook for all of the family get-togethers and all of the special occasions,” she added.

The rising chef is working on perfecting her mother’s chicken and dressing, a recipe she picked up from a friend in California in the 1970’s and kept alive all of this time as a traditional dish for the Harrison’s to savor each Thanksgiving.

“Now it’s up to Crystal to take the legacy on to the other girls like my granddaughters,” Pinky said. “Crystal pretty much has all of my cooking abilities now, so I would give her an A+. On some things, I actually feel like she does better than I do.”

Pinky began cooking when she was nearly 12 years-old for her family of seven, using mostly materials from the government’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program, including canned meat, boxed cheese, flour and powdered eggs. Her humble beginnings taught her that good food doesn’t exist in the limits of expensive high-end grocery brands, but in the talents of the chef preparing the food.

Aside from her home economics studies in school, she’s a self-made cook through nearly a lifetime of experience and opened the family’s first restaurant, Come and Get It, in 2008, cooking southern comfort food until 2014. The business later downscaled and re-emerged as Pinky’s To-Go off of 11th Street in 2017, offering fresh, steaming hot plates of her classic dishes with take-away service. The business temporarily closed in 2019 when Crystal became pregnant with her son, and is now here to stay with eyes on expansion for the future.

Pinky’s To-Go is located at 113 SH 30 in Huntsville and is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or until they sell out.

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