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 COLEwww.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.
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Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
How Content Creators Hey Fran Hey And Shameless Maya Embraced The Pivot
This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
Sucré Couture Founder Dishes On What It Takes To Launch A Nostalgic Jewelry Brand
There's a certain energy that exudes from a creative woman with a clear vision and energy you feel as soon as you interact with her. It’s contagious and fills up the space with elements of empowerment, honesty, and confidence.
As soon as I sat down to chat with jewelry founder Kimberly Fomby Jefferson, there was an energy takeover, seeming new yet very familiar. It wasn’t but a few moments later that I recognized where I felt that feeling before; it’s the same one I experienced when I came in contact with Sucré Couture, the proactive and nostalgic jewelry brand founded by Kimberly. Over the past year alone, Sucré Couture has been featured in ESSENCE, British Vogue, and New York Magazine, to name a few.
It was my pleasure to sit down with Kimberly during one of her busiest seasons to chat with her about the why behind her brand, her key tips for successful marketing in today’s saturated world, and a few tips for others who battle with imposter syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with this powerhouse, here’s your chance to find out more! You can also shop this amazing brand in our ElevateHer xoNecole shop here!
Kimberly Fomby Jefferson
Photo courtesy of Sucré Couture
xoNecole: For our readers who aren't familiar, can you give a bit of backstory on your journey to becoming a jewelry designer?
Kimberly Fomby Jefferson: My journey to becoming a jewelry designer humbly began in 2011 with $79 worth of jewelry supplies and wholesale jewelry, a Wix website, and a camera phone to take photos in a DIY lightbox made from cardboard. Between being a mom, getting an MBA, and going to a part-time marketing job, I'd be pulling together collections, promoting on social media, and selling a few trunk shows here and there.
Year after year, I'd keep at it, meeting people who eventually became amazing friends and mentors who encouraged me to continue growing Sucré Couture in the most authentic way possible.
The more I grew and gained an appreciation for my gifts, culture, style, and upbringing, the more I evolved as a jewelry designer.
xoN: What was the motivation behind launching Sucré Couture in 2011?
KFJ: Jewelry has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. As young as six or seven years old. My mother always told me to keep a pair of earrings on, or my grandmother and great-aunt would gift me dainty gold and white gold necklaces and rings as keepsakes. Even the men in my family, my father, and grandfather, were really keen on thick gold chains, heavy rings, watches, and nugget bracelets.
Naturally, my exposure and affinity for jewelry followed me throughout my life, including when I decided to launch the brand at the tail end of my residency in New Orleans. I was fresh out of college, expecting a child with my now husband, and wanting to do something creatively fulfilling. I also come from an entrepreneurial family. It's no surprise to many that I followed suit.
xoN: From the jewelry to the social media content to the editorial shoots, the Sucré Couture vibe exudes effortlessly across the board. In a world where marketing is key to any e-commerce success, what are the three strategies you've implemented to ensure seamless branding?
KFJ: Know your brand and whom you're creating it for. While, at the same time, remaining authentic to the brand and why you launched it. Because truthfully, the right people will fall in love with your brand anyway.
Be as organized as possible. Keep all of your assets and content in one place for your team. Make it easy for yourself or anyone to grab what they need to produce good content.
Lead with a campaign strategy that sets clear creative expectations at the very beginning and keep everyone informed on it.
Photo courtesy of Sucré Couture
xoN: What does success look like to you?
KFJ: I love this question. Especially since it's come up so much for me within the last few months. Success looks like a beautiful community of heavily engaged people, a brand legacy that continues well into the future, and Sucré Couture editorial jewelry and other items that people have coveted as souvenirs of our collections for decades.
xoN: What has been your biggest challenge as a Black woman entrepreneur?
KFJ: Hmmm, my biggest challenge, and win at the same time, as a Black woman entrepreneur, has been the journey. It's no secret that Black-owned businesses, and even more so those of Black women, do not have the same access to resources as others. So I've had to get creative and roll up my sleeves to make things pop off and shine. With my knowledge bank, talents, and with the support of my team and community, Sucré Couture has managed to navigate challenges gracefully.
xoN: What has your biggest failure in this industry taught you? Please give us a brief scenario of the failure and how you found the lessons within that.
KFJ: Fortunately, through the support of a fantastic community of other entrepreneurs, friends, and family, I do not perceive anything I have encountered in the industry as failures — only lessons. A wise woman once told me, "Write off failures as professional development." As an entrepreneur, you must be willing to fall and get scraped and bruised up, only to get back up and try your best not to make the same missteps.
On this note, my biggest lesson has been checking all the facts and not skipping steps. Check your contracts and plan, plan, plan because, baby, the devil is in the details.
xoN: What is the #1 piece of advice for anyone who wants to start and launch a successful jewelry brand?
KFJ: My number one piece of advice for anyone wanting to start and launch a successful jewelry brand is to do it from the heart. Make wearable art with the same love you have for the brand. Get personal and vulnerable by how you engage with building it. Sit with it. Pick it apart. Don't be afraid to start anew and rebrand. Be genuine, and the rest will flow through your product and storytelling.
My second piece of advice is to get your feet wet in every single part of your business. From digital marketing to operations to photography to web design and development, good business owners, in general, should be able to roll their sleeves to pitch hit to keep the momentum going, if necessary.
A third piece of advice is to be coachable. Don't be afraid of constructive criticism—especially from a qualified source. If you have some good business advice that makes sense, I'll surely listen. In adjunct to this, you can't take everyone's advice either. Chew up the meat and spit out the bones. Trust your gut. You know your business better than anyone else.
Photo courtesy of Sucré Couture
xoN: As someone who has been in the industry for over a decade, I'm sure you've had times when you felt stagnant, complacent, or overlooked in regard to your brand. What is the #1 piece of advice for anyone who feels like potentially giving up because they haven't reached 'success' yet?
KFJ: Girl! Keep pushing. My great Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Jean, more than a decade ago, told me that it would take a minimum of 5 years to see a business bloom into its full potential and to keep chipping away at the brand. That's a gem that I always hear in the back of my mind. I'm glad I listened. Paying it forward to whoever is reading that needs to hear the same thing.
xoN: Why was it essential for you to have an all-woman team behind Sucré Couture?
KFJ: Women naturally possess an innate sense of eros, which must be reflected within the brand. Sucré Couture is deeply rooted in a love of self and love of Black culture, and our all-women home team got that down to the core. It's been tilled and nurtured by gifted hands.
xoN: What's the future look like for Sucré Couture? Any new exciting projects our readers should know about?
KFJ: The future for Sucré Couture is about to get more experiential and profound than ever. While I can't share all the details, provocative, nostalgic, and raw art is central to the experience. And more Sucré jewelry, of course!
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Feature image by Sucré Couture