Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole on creating a Black-owned, plant-based empire

"Veganism is not boring. It's fun, it can be sexy, it can be tasty."

Published February 21, 2022 6:00PM (EST)

Sandwiches from Slutty Vegan in Atlanta (Courtesy of Slutty Vegan)
Sandwiches from Slutty Vegan in Atlanta (Courtesy of Slutty Vegan)

​​If you haven't witnessed the many business ventures of Pinky Cole before, it'll only be a matter of time. Cole is the definition of a multi-hyphenate; the Baltimore-raised, Atlanta-based businesswoman is primarily known for her wildly successful restaurant and brand, Slutty Vegan.

In addition to her restaurant ventures, Pinky is a philanthropist, mother, writer and beloved public figure, recently gracing the cover of Essence with her partner Derrick Hayes. We sat down with Pinky to pick her brain for a quick Q&A that talks about all things veganism, identity, and how she plans to keep growing her provocative plant-based empire.

Manuela Lòpez Restrepo: What do you attribute the rapid success of Slutty Vegan to? 

Pinky Cole: "Well, there's a few things. The first piece of it is my story. And where I come from. I am an entrepreneur who had a business that was seemingly successful, had a grease fire, lost that business altogether, lost everything. And then I got it back. So that story of triumph really resonates with a lot of people. 

And they get excited about that, because they too, believe themselves, that they can follow their dreams no matter what. That's the first thing. 

Secondly, 'Slutty Vegan' is a marketing company that happens to sell food, and we help people to reimagine food. So we create an experience, and this lifestyle, around vegan food, something that, once upon a time, was considered expensive, boring, bland, tasteless… and we created life around it.

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I would say that we are in a progressive movement, where veganism is now at an all time high. I like to say that Slutty Vegan had a finger in making it extra popular because when I created Slutty Vegan, you could barely get a really good vegan meal, let alone with something that tasted good, right? So I like to say that we were the guinea pig. Once we did it, all [the] other big corporations did it. But it was all about timing and what was happening environmentally, in the economy and the pandemic. People just wanted to live and eat better. And there were just so many things happening. I think that we had the right positioning and the right timing. So all of those things coupled together, plus community, is a winning recipe for the success of the business.

MLR: Slutty Vegan has quickly become a cornerstone for the plant-based community. What does it mean to you as a Black woman to be representing a lot of that plant-based movement?

PC: So for me, one as a Black woman, it amazes me every single day. But I'm not just a Black woman. I'm Black, I'm a minority. I'm a female, I'm a millennial. I'm the daughter of former immigrants. So I speak to so many audiences, where people feel like they can see themselves in me. That right there just tells me that I can tap into so many people, in the hearts and minds of people. 

And it just tells me that the inclusion of all people into my dream…..just shows we can really all come together in the name of food and that feels good to me. It feels better than money. It feels better than notoriety, to know that I'm literally walking in my purpose and making an impact while doing it is one of the biggest things for me.

MLR: Slutty Vegan, as a restaurant experience is pretty limited to people who have been able to go to the pop-ups or to the restaurant in Atlanta. Do you think that part of your upcoming cookbook release, "Eat Plants, B*tch" will help make the Slutty Vegan philosophy more accessible to others? 

PC: Well, I don't want to do that, that's what I'm doing now, right? I'm creating a space where people don't have to feel like they can't eat healthier, because they don't have the options or the resources or the access. So I'm putting Slutty Vegan in areas where vegan food probably wouldn't be consistent with the neighborhood. I'm putting Slutty Vegan in areas where people who may have never been interested in vegan food may want to try it. I'm creating this concept where I'm creating damn good food, and it just so happens to be vegan. And then we put so many labels on food that people get stuck into. They're like, 'Oh, I'm vegan, I'm not vegan. I'm flexitarian.'  Like, who cares about all that, I just want you incorporating better options into your lifestyle, even if it starts with comfort food. And to see that, we've been able to succeed at that tremendously. I'm about to be four years old in the business. And you know, the restaurant industry is not easy. To be able to do what we do, still with lines down the block, people still come in, still supporting the brand, and 97% of the people who come to 'Slutty Vegan' are meat eaters. So what should that tell you? That tells you that we are creating access that didn't necessarily exist before and, and removing the labels and telling people that you can eat really good food and it could be guilt free.

MLR: What do you have to say to those exact people, the meat eaters who may be hesitant about trying something like 'Slutty Vegan' or any other vegan restaurant? 

PC: You can come to Slutty Vegan [laughter].

The good thing about what I got going on in here with our brand is that people come because they want to know what the hype is all about. So again, they're really not coming for the food, they hear the food is good. But they keep hearing about this crazy ass experience that they need to connect to and tap into because everybody keeps raving about it. So when I tell you I got like a cult following, it is a cult following. People don't play about Slutty Vegan. And so now the people who at least are willing to come to Slutty Vegan just tells me that they're curious. And the minute that I have your curiosity, I have your attention. 

And when I have your attention, I could teach you about veganism, through entertainment, through a fun environment. And then by the time that you leave, you didn't even realize you just ate a plant-based burger and that shit was good! And it happens every single time.

MLR: Where did the 'slutty' aspect of the brand come from? I was cracking up looking at the menu. 

PC: So it's funny, I used to be a television producer. Well I'm still a television producer, because we never die at heart. But I come from the TV world, and I was a producer at the "Maury" show, and a whole bunch of other shows. What I learned working with TV is that you gotta have that [make audiences] care factor, you gotta have things that people want to talk about. And you got to make them want to pay attention and not change the channel. I took those things that I learned, and I infused it into the restaurant space. If I named this "Pinky's Vegan" I ain't having no customers, maybe they'll come here and there. 

But if I create a whole production experience around a concept, and make it a lifestyle, and make it so racy and raunchy, it's going to force you to want to know: 'Why in the world would somebody name a business a slutty name that is so provocative, and feels disrespectful?' 'That's anti feminist, like why would somebody do that?' But the minute that I get them feeling offended, there's an underlying intention there, and the intention is to help people to reimagine food. So when I came up with the name, it was really just a way to draw people in. Because veganism is not boring. It's fun, it can be sexy, it can be tasty. I know vegan food that is "sloppier" than just "regular" food that comes from an animal. But like there's so many variations of being vegan and being plant based, that it can be the sexiest thing on the planet. And you don't just have to eat grass all day, and salad and I love salad. Right? But it can be sexier than that. And that's why I created the name.

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You can keep up with Pinky on social media here. Her upcoming cookbook "Eat Plants, B*tch" will be available in stores this fall.

By Manuela Lopez Restrepo

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Interview Pinky Cole Slutty Vegan Vegan Veganism