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How This Shamelessly Slutty Vegan Started A Culinary Revolution

"I am the representation of successful Black business."

BOSS UP

On any given day, a crowd of fans wait eagerly outside of the Slutty Vegan, chatting eagerly about whether they want a Sloppy Toppy or a Ménage à Trois as they wait in hour-long lines. No, this isn't a twisted version of the movie Trois -- unless you count indulging in salacious yet savory food as a form of foreplay.

In fact, just a few months ago many of these patrons wouldn't have thought twice about traveling down to the primarily African-American Southwest Atlanta neighborhood. But today, it's not uncommon to see enthused foodies, celebrities, locals and travelers from all races and backgrounds vying for a chance at tasting the restaurant's famous plant-based burgers. In case the headlines weren't clear, Slutty Vegan is revolutionizing the vegan fast food industry, and it's taking the meaning of food porn to the next level.

INSIDE SLUTTY VEGAN WITH FOUNDER PINKY COLE www.youtube.com

Leading the way is founder Pinky Cole. With her red, shoulder-length locs, radiating smile, and confidence that permeates any room she enters, Pinky is focused on her vision of making enjoyable vegan food a worldwide phenomenon. "Slutty Vegan [isn't] slowing down anytime soon," says Pinky. "It's going to be alongside the Burger Kings, McDonalds, and Sonics of the world."

Taking a break from her never-ending to-do list, Pinky and I chat about her journey to creating one of the most buzzworthy restaurants in Atlanta and the vegan community, and how she was able to launch and scale her business from concept to a brick-and-mortar restaurant all within a year. It's not long into our conversation that I realize that the key to her success is rooted in two concepts: the power in execution after inspiration and the importance of capitalizing off of momentum. This— and her desire to serve— is what is driving her to turn her idea into a worldwide phenomenon.

"I come as one, but I stand as 10,000. You see me, but I am the representation of so many people that look like me, brown skin and locs— people that don't fit society's norm. I am the representation of successful Black business. There is [a] tax on Black-owned business, that we don't do well. [Slutty Vegan] is changing the game of what Black business looks like. It's a big deal to know that I am able to create something as a Black woman that is successful and bring our stock to the next level."

Photo by Tailiah Breon for xoNecole

"I am the representation of successful Black business."

Opening her own restaurant wasn't always the end destination for Pinky. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of acting, but a chain of events led her to her culinary destiny. While in Los Angeles, a sorority sister offered Pinky a position to work as a TV producer. This opened the doors to various roles in the industry, which eventually led her to work with The Maury Show. During this time, Pinky, who loved all things food and business since her youth (and was taught to cook by her Jamaican grandmother), decided to take the money she had saved from her day job to open up her first venture in Harlem: Pinky's Jamaican and American Restaurant.

It was there she experienced her first major setback. "I ended up losing the restaurant due to a grease fire," she says. "It seemed like a failure, but it was the best thing that ever happened."

Soon after, Pinky moved back to Atlanta to work as a casting director for another popular TV show. Being a part of the show's production team allowed her the space to heal from the trauma of losing a business, while also helping to heal and serve others. It wasn't long before she'd have the desire to try her hand at entrepreneurship again. Just a few months into her transition back south, a million-dollar idea was born. "I was sitting in the house one day and I came up with this idea of Slutty Vegan. It came to me like a light bulb. [The name] was sexy. It sounds like it's selling sex, but it's bigger than that. [I knew] it was going to become a movement; it's going to get people to pay attention to being plant-based and veganism."

Photo by Tailiah Breon for xoNecole

"It sounds like it's selling sex, but it's bigger than that."

Unlike many who may experience these moments of entrepreneurial epiphanies, Pinky didn't just sit on the idea. She started creating recipes, finding supplier partners, and researching how to expand. In July 2018, she set up shop at a shared kitchen to test out her newly-created cuisine. By August, she moved to a commercial kitchen, invested in a food truck in September, and in October found the location for the first Slutty Vegan restaurant. Three months later, a crowd of 1,200 gathered outside the restaurant in 45-degree weather for the grand opening. "It was so beautiful to see so many people looking like me come out in the name of food," she recalls.

Since its opening in January, the Atlanta-based restaurant has become a mini tourist attraction, with customers lining up as much as two hours in advance of the store's daily opening. Occasionally, the line wraps around the corner with wait times hitting at least five hours or more.

While success seems to be happening fast for the brand, Pinky isn't surprised. She had a feeling this was going to happen, she tells me matter-of-factly. The Slutty Vegan name alone was a hook that would reel her potential customer base in. "There is [a] stigma to the word. [I thought], 'How can I use a bad word to make it something good, be creative and [help people] indulge in what they love guilt-free?'"

Courtesy of Slutty Vegan

"Veganism can be cool. Being plant-based can be cool. It doesn't have to be mundane."

Such indulgences include the Fussy Hussy— an Impossible Burger patty loaded with pickles, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and their signature slutty sauce without the cholesterol and calories of a traditional burger. It's the creative genius behind Pinky's idea— and she knows it. "It feels like it's bad because it's a cheeseburger and fries, but it's a lot healthier, which is why the hook to the conversation is you don't have to eat dead animals in order for it to taste good," Pinky says. "We can limit and decrease the amount of illnesses and disease in our community based on the food we ingest. That intention is continuing to be met because it's working."

To no surprise, at the core of the Slutty Vegan branding strategy is experience. Pinky has been deliberate about how she's crafted the way customers interact with the brand since the beginning. "Build your brand in a way that is so irresistible that people have to have it. When people have to have it, they will do whatever to get it. Slutty Vegan has been successful [in] creating an experience for people so that they have to have it by any means necessary," she tells me. "Veganism can be cool. Being plant-based can be cool. It doesn't have to be mundane."

It's why on the Slutty Vegan Instagram you'll hardly see any brand-generated photos of their signature burgers. Pinky also doesn't spend money on influencer marketing, and will tell you in a heartbeat that she's "not selling food." Instead, she's "helping people indulge in what they love."

Even Pinky's celebrity co-signers are genuine, unpaid, and helping to push the brand's message to a larger audience. "When you eat my food as a celebrity, you're jumping on board to this bigger conversation and spreading a narrative of eating healthier and limiting diseases in our community. That's what we call positive manipulation, and it's working."

It's understandable why after tasting her burgers people can't stop eating or talking about Pinky Cole and Slutty Vegan. There's something magical about the way the brand has been able to sprout out of nowhere and dominate the food scene. It leaves little room for doubt as to where Pinky plans on taking her company. "In 2019, you have to do things that are going to separate you from everyone else," she says.

While I'm not sure if Pinky would describe herself as radical, she's definitely a rule-breaker. Going against the norm has enabled her to bring the Slutty Vegan story to the forefront. According to Pinky, moving the food truck location daily is not usually a food truck culture norm, but Slutty Vegan does it anyway. Using provocative nomenclature in brand marketing could also be seen as risky, but despite all of this, Pinky believes that her desire to change the rules of how to start and run a business have helped fuel the company's success. If you're thinking of ways to engage with customers or influence sales, thinking outside the box can lead to breakthroughs that can ultimately fuel growth.

However, no hero's journey is complete without a major test of character and commitment to their dream.

Slutty Vegan was invited to vend at the 2019 Super Bowl, and Pinky found herself having to make the difficult decision as to whether she'd accept the opportunity or not. She was told that she'd have to change the restaurant's name, branding and wrapping. While the optics and sales would have been great, Pinky realized she would have to compromise on everything she worked hard to create. To Pinky, this wasn't worth sacrificing her brand footprint. She adds with conviction, "I am glad I didn't compromise who I am for the dollar. The people who want me are going to come to me."

The people have been coming alright. The decision alone to launch a vegan restaurant in Atlanta could be the perfect example of "right place, right time." However, it's a reminder of a higher alignment. It shows how sometimes things are supposed to happen as they happen. One of the first things Pinky told me during our chat was, "If [my first] restaurant didn't close, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"I was supposed to be in Atlanta. [Atlanta is] the home of soul food. It's the South. If you tell people in the South about vegan food, they laugh at you. To be able to do this [here], we've conquered something that is really not a big deal. We've done it and we can go somewhere else and they'll be with the movement. [In] Los Angeles, DC, or New York, veganism is normal. The fact that I am able to do this in Atlanta is dope."

Photo by Tailiah Breon for xoNecole

"If [my first] restaurant didn't close, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

The future of Slutty Vegan seems promising. Pinky tells us that she has several projects in the works, including a development deal for a television show, possible Slutty Vegan airport locations, merchandise, franchising options, and ready-made bottles of her infamous Slutty Sauce for sale.

"If you have a great idea, a lot of faith and are steadfast on your goals, it doesn't take five years to [launch]. You can do what I did in six months and it can be super [successful]. It depends on how bad you want to win."

Like many founders, what's driving Pinky is the impact she has on everything she touches. "While the people are pouring into you, you have to pour back into the people. People will continue to support you if they see you are supporting the community."

Philanthropy and serving others are core values that she ensures surrounds the Slutty Vegan way. It's a mission that is the driving force behind why she looks forward to waking up each day. "This doesn't feel like work," Pinky says. "The refuel is knowing my doors are open every day, having conversations with people like you, to know that I'm responsible for feeding 25 mouths every week. I'm the captain of the ship, and if I fall asleep, the ship is going to sink and I'm not willing to let that happen. I built something that can take our community to the next level."

And we're certainly down to ride the wave.

To learn more about Slutty Vegan and how you can get #sluttified, visit http://sluttyveganatl.com and check out the brand on Instagram at @sluttyveganatl.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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