The founder and executive chef of Pinky and Red’s restaurant, Bernadine “Pinky” Sewell, was diagnosed with stage 3C colon cancer in August 2020 and is asking for financial support to help pay for treatment and bills.
Pinky and Red’s was first established in UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Building in 2018 but had to shutter its doors in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Since its closing, the company has converted to a coffee e-commerce brand, selling its line of coffee on Shopify.
“We had to pivot and that’s all we had left, we didn’t have the funding to do another brick and mortar,” Sewell said. “(The online shop’s) not doing well because the word hasn’t been out, we’re not out there like that.”
On top of keeping her shop afloat, Sewell has had three major surgeries to remove cancerous tumors since her diagnosis. After her first surgery, the tumors came back again, causing Sewell to have a second surgery by the end of 2020. She began her first round of eight-month-long chemotherapy shortly after.
Sewell is now on her second round of chemotherapy after the second reemergence of tumors leading to her third major surgery.
“My doctor wants to keep me on the chemotherapy a little bit longer because the tumors came back so fast, so aggressively,” Sewell said.
Her most recent surgery occurring Oct. 24 was an outpatient surgery to change the nephrostomy tubing that helps her urinate after her surgeon mistakenly sliced her bladder during her third major surgery. The surgery must be performed every 90 days indefinitely to prevent her kidney and bladder from becoming infected.
Sewell is now living off Supplemental Security Income, which has been cut to under $800 a month. Looking for financial support, Sewell set up a GoFundMe in January 2021 and is asking for help from the community.
“It’s getting harder and harder to pay rent, to pay car notes, to pay bills and everything with that limited amount,” Sewell said. “It would be so awesome if I could find somebody that can donate a large amount like a corporation that helps sustain me for the next couple of years until I get Pinky and Red’s back up and running.”
Sewell added it would be “so sad” if COVID-19 led to the demise of the business.
It is her dream to reopen Pinky and Red’s on campus if she goes into remission, Sewell said.
“I’ve missed the campus,” Sewell said. “I love feeding the kids, especially the ones that are just new to the campus and away from home and still need something to remind them of home because they come in so young.”
Fifth-year campus student Raina Zhao was once one of those freshmen who felt at home in Pinky and Red’s.
Zhao said Sewell, along with the other employees, were some of the friendliest faces she saw and made delicious chicken sandwiches.
“I was heartbroken when I found out Pinky and Red’s wouldn’t be at MLK anymore,” Zhao said in a text. “I remember I once helped them carry trays of catering to an event I was participating in, and being enthusiastically bossed around legitimately made me feel like I was at home with my aunts!”