Aisha “Pinky” Cole, the owner and founder of renowned plant-based eatery Slutty Vegan is not just serving up burgers for her customers. The vibrant and passionate restauranteur has been showing up and showing out for her community and beyond, taking a decisive stand on racial justice and other social issues that impact the Black community, while also encouraging her supporters to do the same.
“There are a lot of injustices against Black people in America,” Cole told ESSENCE in a phone interview. “And those conversations need to be had, especially with a platform like mine. I wanted to make sure that I’m using my platform to talk about what’s currently relevant in our society.”
And Cole has used her platform. In addition to founding Slutty Vegan, Cole is the brains behind the Pinky Cole Foundation, promotes financial literacy and education in Black communities to help build generational wealth. Between her business and the foundation, Cole has found multiple ways, any way she can really, to engage with the community and give back.
One of Cole’s most recent initiatives includes partnering with Impossible Foods and Jermaine Dupri to launch a nationwide VoteNik (a play on the Freaknik name) Initiative to encourage people to register to vote, and then exercise their civil rights in hopes of boosting voter turnout. The emphasis, she explained, is not about who is voting and who they are voting for, but more who is not voting, and how to motivate them to do so.
“If 97 percent of the people who patronize my business are African American, I know that I have a responsibility to make sure that I’m driving people to the polls, I’m driving people to get registered and driving people to understand how important it is for your voice to be heard,” Cole said. “And we’re really just like talking about the critical question on voting, right. And the impact that it has and how it’s designed to promote people to get excited about voting and I’m doing just that.”
Voting rights are not the only way that Cole has stood with her community. When Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta Police in June, Cole worked alongside another Atlanta restauranteur, Derrick Hayes the owner of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, to ensure that his family was taken care of.
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, was given a brand, new car. Cole worked with her own alma mater Clark Atlanta University to provide $600,000 in scholarships for Brooks’ children, and on top of it all, they paid for life insurance for the entire family.
Cole has also partnered with Clark Atlanta in the past, alongside businesswoman Stacey Lee, to pay off the remaining debts of 30 seniors last year.
And assisting Brooks’ family with life insurance had such a huge impact on Cole, that she decided to partner with Big Dave’s to create a new initiative to get every single Black man in Atlanta life insurance. Partnering with Atlanta Life Insurance Co., this means providing $25,000 life insurance policies to Black men in the city making below $30,000.
The ever-busy business owner has even joined forces with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice to provide an annual scholarship of $10,000 and jobs for youth in the program.
This project was especially close to Cole’s heart, as her own father served 22 years in prison.
“I felt like I could identify with what a lot of these children go through, because the reality of it is, is more often than not they may have had a father who was locked into the prison system,” she said candidly. “So this is just generational trauma that continues to repeat itself…So partnering with them was a big deal.”
It seems as if Cole’s drive to help is endless, but she has no plans on stopping any time soon.
“My focus specifically right now is making sure that I can use my platform to extend a narrative, to provide opportunities in our community so that we can be better, so that we could be perceived in a different way, so that we can be the voice for the voiceless. For so many years, we’ve never had a voice,” she said.
Cole continued, “There’ve been several factors that have put us on the back burner of how we show up in America. And I made a promise to myself and I’m going to use my platform to talk about the various issues that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. One of those things is our health and the other thing is social injustices. Those things happen in tandem, but right now, specifically, those injustices are important to me.”
To Cole, it all boils down to a sense of responsibility and a joy to give back to others, especially given her success with her business.
“I think that it is irresponsible as an entrepreneur and business owner to have a multimillion-dollar business and have a platform where people actually pay attention and buy into whatever you’re selling to not use that platform for good,” Cole said.
“I like to call myself a hood politician,” she quipped, her smile could be felt even though the phone. “I’ve never been into politics, like it’s never been my thing, but I’ve always been a part of community engagement and helping people and providing people opportunities that otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. So, it feels good to be able to be that person to do that. I wouldn’t call myself a spokesperson, but [I’m] somebody who really wants to see change in the communities. And I’m literally being the change that I want to see.”
In the meantime, Cole’s business continues to flourish. Even amid the pandemic she opened a new location for Slutty Vegan in July, and is looking to open more locations soon. And as she continues to thrive, so does her drive to help and serve her community.
“God has blessed me to be able to help other people. So, it brings me joy when I can lift other people up,” she added. “I make a lot of fucking money in my business, but the reality of it is the biggest joy in my life is to be able to know that I’ve gotten somebody out of a tough situation, that I’ve helped somebody be better or something that I’ve done made change in the community, which I serve.”