Baltimore native Aisha “Pinky” Cole’s life has been all about taking big risks and reaping the rewards. A hustler since her youth, Cole has raked in thousands of dollars from savvy side gigs. We’re talking everything from reselling McDonald’s sandwiches in her high school cafeteria to throwing parties. Her sharp business acumen and natural gift of gab broke down doors, but it was her appetite for risk-taking that allowed her to leave behind an illustrious career as a television producer to start Pinky’s Jamaican and American Restaurant, a popular Harlem eatery. When the restaurant caught on fire in 2016, she took it as a sign. “I built that restaurant on a rocky foundation,” she reflects. “I wasn’t walking with intention.” After a two-year break, she decided it was time to make a change for herself and for her community.
Cole knew that her true passion was making delicious and satisfying food that doesn’t compromise wellness, a concept ingrained in her DNA. “I was fortunate enough to marinate in the womb of a vegetarian,” she says. “My mother and father are Rastafarians, so I was conceived from a meatless transaction.” It’s no wonder then that her next business venture, Slutty Vegan based in Atlanta, came with an entirely new blueprint. What started as a ghost kitchen concept soon became a food truck, then a brick-and-mortar restaurant, a national pop-up tour and now a viral Instagram sensation. Today, Slutty Vegan, a name she strategically chose to get people talking, has been visited by celebs like Snoop Dogg, Lena Waithe, Tyler Perry—the list goes on.
She defines a slutty vegan as “someone who takes time away from their busy lives to indulge in the pleasures that life brings.” At Cole’s hot spot, where patrons line up for blocks, such pleasures include tempting menu options like a Ménage à Trois, an Impossible Burger loaded with vegan bacon, shrimp and cheese on a Hawaiian bun.
Many people think going vegan means sacrificing flavor and the overall enjoyment of food, but Cole knows that couldn’t be further from the truth. Fortunately, as the vegan movement has been popularized by celebrities like Jay Z, Beyoncé and Jhené Aiko, sentiments about plant-based eating within the Black community have come a long way. “I became a vegan when it wasn’t really cool yet,” Cole says of making the transition in 2014. “But I knew I was onto something. Becoming vegan has been the best thing I could have ever done for my body. It gave me a level of mental clarity that’s unmatched.”
Cole adds that veganism has made her more in tune with the fact that her nourishment comes from a pure source. “I credit a lot of that to not eating meat. We don’t know where these animals came from or how they were killed or the state of mind they were in. Food is energy, and anything you put in your body will reflect on the outside—good or bad. Once you understand your body is your temple, you’ll take better care of it.” What we eat, she says, is one of the most important forms of taking care of oneself, a message she’s serving to her community over and over again.
Hear Pinky Cole share her story onstage in New Orleans at the 2019 Essence Festival.