Pinky Cole is full of energy, and she brings it to her brand full-bore. At Slutty Vegan, her growing chain of vegan fast-food restaurants, hip hop soundtracks boom as dancing employees flip provocatively named plant-based burgers, such as the One Night Stand and the Fussy Hussy, many topped with the signature Slut Sauce — or maybe you’d like a side of Slutty Fries?
“The food is great, but that’s the cherry on top,” Cole says. “The core foundation of what the concept represents is energy. You hear my energy. This is the energy you feel when you walk into every Slutty Vegan. It’s big, bold, raw, authentic energy.”
That’s partly why it’s easy to dig the place even if you’re not a committed vegan. Cole, who opened the first Slutty Vegan in Atlanta in 2018, says it’s not in her DNA to proselytize about a plant-based lifestyle. She’s betting that the Sloppy Toppy burger and its fellow menu items will do the work for her. “People come for the experience and leave with the food,” she says. (A heads up: If you’re a newbie at the chain — a Slutty Virgin, if you will — get ready to be greeted by a staff-led cheer.)
“I don’t sell veganism,” says Cole, who has been a vegan for a decade and was doing a 60-day raw vegan diet when she was interviewed for this story. “If someone wrinkles their nose about our menu, I say, ‘Go eat your steak.’ I’m not judging.”
Instead, she’s shifting people's mindsets.
“There are more people who don’t know about veganism than know about it. I’m hoping to meet people where they are, to invite them into a world of veganism that’s cool and fun and flavorful.”
She got her inspiration from working as a Dasher.
Cole’s restaurant ventures aren’t her only experience with food — she spent time as a delivery driver, too. “I was working as a TV supervising producer in LA, and when you’re on hiatus, you don’t get paid, so I was trying to figure out how to make money while I was on break. I signed up to be a DoorDash driver and fed a lot of rich people in Beverly Hills. That’s when I realized that rich people order out a lot.”
“The experience changed my perspective about the food delivery content model and how people consume food that’s delivered,” she says, which spurred her to start Slutty Vegan. “While I was driving, I would go to a kitchen shared by four restaurants multiple times a day. That’s where I got inspiration for my own concept. The rest is history!” There are now seven Slutty Vegans in Georgia, one in Alabama, and three in New York City.
New York was also the site of Cole’s first restaurant venture, Pinky’s Jamaican and American Restaurant in Harlem. She ran it for two years, until a grease fire destroyed the space in 2016. Cole considers that one of the biggest growth moments in her life.
“The fire is my story of redemption,” she says. “People have been able to identify with my story of triumph, from losing everything to getting it back again.”
That life-changing experience also helped fuel her commitment to giving back, something she does through her eponymous foundation. Since its inception, she’s paid the rent for local businesses so they don’t have to close their doors, offered resources to budding entrepreneurs, given scholarships to juvenile offenders, and paid off the college debts of 30 students (so far) who attended Clark Atlanta University, her alma mater.
“I want to make people around me better,” she says. “I’m not just talking about vegan food all the time. I’m talking about possibility, opportunity, that you can be the best version of yourself. I used to drive for DoorDash, and [then I was the] chief restaurant advisor for DoorDash. I want people to know that the opportunities are endless. As long as you believe in yourself, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.”
And what does she have in store for herself? “World domination,” she says with a laugh, which includes a plan to open 20 new Slutty Vegans by the end of 2023. “I’m really diversifying who I am as a personal brand and as a vegan entrepreneur guru. Whether I expand into movies, TV or deliver DoorDash all over again, I’ll be satisfied. However it ends up, I’ll be happy.”
Photo courtesy of Pinky Cole