“He’s got a lot of personality,” Jim Rimoczi, owner of the Horseshoe Saloon, said. “Everyone knows him around here — I’d heard of him before he even started working here.”
Now, McKinney — whose nickname is “Tommy Gun” — needs Woodinville’s help after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. His friends are organizing an event called “Cure the Cook” Friday, May 3. The event will be a combination 50th birthday party and fundraiser to help him pay for his health care costs.
“We’re making sure that he can keep his home, keep his lights on, keep some food in the cupboard, and make a dent in the medical bills,” said Sandra Dee, a friend of McKinney’s and the main organizer of the event.
On a recent Friday evening at the Horseshoe Saloon, customers had nothing but good things to say about McKinney’s personality and his cooking.
“He’s an excellent cook. His food’s the best. He’s always got a smile on his face,” said Melissa Williams, who’s known McKinney for a few years. “He knows how much I like bacon, so he always makes me extra bacon.”
Williams praised McKinney for “always trying something new,” such as making different barbecue sauces. Other customers mentioned his inventiveness as well.
For Kristine Johnson, McKinney has made a chicken cordon bleu sandwich — which is not on the Horseshoe’s menu — and healthier grilled chicken meals when she was on a diet.
“He always does something different for us, something not on the menu,” Johnson said. “He really takes pride in what he cooks.”
She and her fiancé met McKinney at Big Daddy’s Place Bar and Grill, and have often given McKinney rides home from work.
“It sounds like he’s had a rough life, with all the stuff he’s going through,” she said.
McKinney was diagnosed with colon cancer in May 2010, which has led to other health problems: diverticulitis, a digestive disease; a fistula, which is an abnormal connection between his colon and bladder; and urinary tract infections, which have required antibiotics.
“It’s one thing after another,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”
Doctors have now found more tumors, and McKinney will have surgery to remove those tumors on May 10. After that, he’ll be off work for a month and will need a caregiver.
He doesn’t have health insurance, so he needs help to pay for the upcoming surgery, his care afterward, and his preexisting hospital bills.
McKinney moved to Seattle from California in 1988, and he’s worked at a variety of restaurants from Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the SkyCity Restaurant at the Space Needle to “every Hooters in the area,” he said.
“If you’ve gone out in Woodinville, or worked at a bar or restaurant, you know Tommy,” Dee said about McKinney.
Those who work with him at the Horseshoe Saloon had only good things to say. Manager Stephanie Carino described him as “dedicated” and having “so much heart.”
“I’ve never had a cook here care so much about the customers and the employees,” she said. “He’s willing to do anything for anybody.”
Rimoczi said McKinney is “a good guy” who is popular with customers, goes above and beyond his job duties to help the bartenders, and tells a lot of jokes.
“He’s really brought the food quality here way up,” Rimoczi said. “I could stand right next to him and cook the same thing with the same ingredients, and his would turn out better.”
It’s only fitting, then, that the “Cure the Cook” event will feature a special menu prepared by McKinney.
The celebration and fundraiser will also include karaoke and a balloon raffle, Dee said.
Before the bar’s usual Friday night karaoke begins at 9:00, attendees can pay to make another person sing from 8:00 to 9:00.
For the balloon raffle, supporters will buy balloons starting at $5, some of which will have prizes inside from local businesses such as Purple Cafe, Red Door Spa and Lucia Italian Restaurant.
At the end of the night, people who bought balloons can pop them and see if they won prizes.
In addition to the money raised by the balloon raffle and the karaoke, the Horseshoe will make a donation for every Pabst Blue Ribbon ordered. There’s also an account set up in McKinney’s name at Banner Bank for donations. The bar is also planning several other fundraising events, including an auction.
“We’re like a huge family here,” Carino said of the efforts to support McKinney.
The Horseshoe Saloon is located at 12461 NE Woodinville Drive. For more information, call (425) 488-2888.