Editor’s note: Her menu items make your mouth water. Her business name makes you blush. In 2018, Pinky Cole founded Slutty Vegan ATL, an Atlanta takeout eatery selling overstuffed burgers. Fans wait in line up to three hours to sink their teeth into popular orders like the One Night Stand and the Ménage à Trois.
Thanks to a background in television, Cole knows that sex sells. She chose the irreverent and winking name to pique customers’ curiosity, associating culinary adventurousness with carnal pleasure. “We want you to have an orgasmic experience and the ultimate feeling of euphoria that comes after having a vegan burger,” Cole told The New York Times in 2019. She also made sure the menu and atmosphere would appeal to meat eaters and vegans alike.
A Social Mission to Support Our Communities
Cole is also well known for her virtuous social mission. She’s funded scholarships for juvenile offenders (her father had been incarcerated) and pledged to help the children of Rayshard Brooks attend college (Brooks was killed at the hands of police in 2020 at an area Wendy’s). She started the Pinky Cole Foundation in 2019 to help young entrepreneurs overcome some of the hurdles to creating wealth. This summer, she partnered with Varo Bank to launch a nationwide food truck tour, providing LCC registrations to 200 emerging entrepreneurs at each stop as part of her commitment to building generational wealth.
With support from celebs such as Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah, Taraji P. Henson and Tyler Perry, plus word of mouth and social media cred, Slutty Vegan secured $25 million in funding. Richelieu Dennis (Sundial Brands cofounder and venture capitalist) and restaurant visionary Danny Meyer (of Shake Shack burger chain fame) led the funding round. With several spots in ATL and one opening in Brooklyn, New York, she’s projected to have at least 25 locations nationwide by the end of next year.
In observance of Black Business Month, Sisters writer Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla asked Cole about her path to success and her commitment to bringing financial freedom to our communities. And if you’re someone who’s skeptical about vegan food, the eight-year devotee of plant-based eating has a word for you, too — plus two delicious, easy and versatile recipes. (Comments have been edited for length and clarity.)
My father told me that success is like mud: Throw it on a wall and something’s gotta stick. I’m a witness [to the fact] that no matter how many failures you had, no matter how many speed bumps came along the way, as long as you keep going, the thing that you've been praying about and hoping to manifest [will] manifest.
On trial by fire
I had a restaurant in Harlem. It [was destroyed in] a grease fire and I didn’t have fire insurance. It’s not enough to call yourself an entrepreneur. You gotta make sure that when you lift that hood, that business is straight. A lot of entrepreneurs are creatives. So while we have the marketing genius down, we really don’t have the business chops. We can hire people [to assist with] permits, sales tax, use tax and insurance.
On living on purpose, without regrets
I’m grateful for the moments in my life that didn’t work out. The universe had a bigger plan for me. I can maneuver through this life without regret. The moments where I was hurt, tried, broke … only made me stronger, wiser, better. So when people ask me, what would I change? I wouldn’t change nothing. Because that story is there and it’s a beautiful story, even if it looked ugly in moments. That story is testimony to help new entrepreneurs be the best versions of themselves.
On building the right team
With the right team, you can sleep at night and wake up [without] stress about business. Finding the right people allowed me do things like this [interview] and have thought leadership conversations and live my life. I used to be so stressed … looking tired, sleepy all the time, because I didn't have the right team. They were good, but they weren’t going where I was going. Make sure [team members] align with your vision, beliefs and ethos. They will be soldiers on the ground so that you can work on the business and not in the business.
On building customer loyalty
People come up to me and cry and ask me for my autograph. I’m like, You want my autograph? [Laughs.] But it feels good to know that I’ve created something that people have an affinity for beyond a transaction. And if you can do that in business, you have something special.
On social entrepreneurship and the Black community
It’s not enough to make money. Anybody can make money, but how are you impacting the world? Being intentional and mission-driven makes a business sustainable, not just trendy. I love to help people. And I love to infuse myself in the opportunities to make people better, especially with a Black-owned woman-owned business. And I pray that for entrepreneurs who aren’t doing that, follow this path, because that’s how we build our ecosystem. That’s how … Black-owned businesses will stay in business longer, grow our businesses. Because if you help the community, the community will always turn around and help you.
My mother, a Jamaican woman, helps everybody who needs help. And when I was a kid, I didn’t understand it. But I realized that I became my mother. I [absorbed her] silent lessons. Blessings aren’t yours to keep.
On building financial freedom and generational wealth
We built this country. How can we get what we deserve? Through generational freedom, generational wealth. Through breaking the patterns and breaking the curses. We’re not designed to work for people for the rest of our lives. We aren’t designed to do that. You can’t pay for freedom, but what you can pay for is LLCs to be able to jump-start that level of freedom. [Through the Varo x Pinky Slutty Vegan Food Truck Tour,] we’re able to give people a jump start and say, hey, here, take the first step.
I’m not saying that you gotta be loud and obnoxious. I’m saying you have to believe in your vision so much that nobody can tell you, “Oh, no, this ain’t gonna work.” That confidence is going to get you through so many doors that money can’t get you through. And if you don’t possess the confidence, it ain’t your time to be an entrepreneur.
On her advice to those who haven’t tried vegan food
If you are OK eating something dead, you should feel even better eating something that’s not dead. Just change your mindset. You change your mindset, you can change your life.
Have a delicious summer with these two quick and easy vegan recipes from Pinky Cole.
Lemon Aioli Dip
Mix the following ingredients:
1 cup vegan yogurt
2 Tbsp. vegan mayo
2 Tbsp. lemon zest or fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. all-purpose seasoning
Mixed Green Salad
Prepare 3 oz. extra-firm tofu.
- Season to taste with blackened Cajun/creole seasoning, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and fresh herbs.
- Sear on both sides.
Mix tofu with the following ingredients:
3 oz. spring mix lettuce
½ green Granny Smith apple, diced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1 oz. (multicolored) grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 (orange) bell pepper, sliced
1 tsp. veggie seasoning
2 Tbsp. your favorite salad dressing (Pinky uses a blush wine vinaigrette)
Top with sunflower seeds, plant-based bacon bits and/or dried veggies.