How This Newbie Restauranteur Started a Vegan Revolution in Atlanta

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

Atlanta restauranteur Pinky Cole has got 99 problems, but protein - and success - ain't one.

It takes a lot for Southerners to willingly brave the cold weather for hours on end; when they do, it’s usually for a football game. Yet, on the day the Slutty Vegan restaurant was scheduled to open its doors, a crowd of more than a thousand accumulated alongside Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard on a chilly Atlanta afternoon.

Never in her wildest imagination did 31-year-old newbie restaurateur Pinky Cole think this enthusiasm could be for a burger—a vegan burger of all things. So, Cole, the owner of Atlanta’s instant foodie phenomenon, Slutty Vegan, is understandably awed with her newfound success.

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Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“Every single day, I’m still in shock,” says, Cole, who on January 13th, opened the doors to Slutty Vegan’s first brick-and-mortar after overwhelming demand outgrew her food truck. “This whole experience—there was no mathematical formula. I knew I was in alignment.”

Most entrepreneurs could only dream of an overnight success story like this, but Cole just happened to have the sauce—the secret sauce (and it’s plant-based of course). Finding a lack of vegan options on Atlanta’s culinary scene, Cole decided in August of 2018 to do it herself.

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Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“I was like what can I do that is quick and easy, and it was burgers. Burgers and fries,” she says, describing her menu, which features the Impossible Burger patty with carefully curated combinations, such as vegan shrimp, vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions and a spicy plant-based mayo. “There was nowhere to go to get burgers and fries, so why not do that? Not only did it work out, it exceeded my expectations.”

Within a few weeks of initializing her dairy- and meat-free burger concept in a commercial kitchen, buzz grew over social media and through word-of-mouth, moving her to scale up her business to a food truck. When lines grew by the hours (and we’re talking two- to four-hour waits), she knew a permanent venue was inevitable. Less than six months later, the burger joint opened to a line of 1,200 people, chomping at the bit to, well, chomp on vegan bites.

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“It’s interesting because a lot of the people who come here are not necessarily vegan,” she says. “Obviously we’re vegan, but most of the people who come in line—like 95 percent of the people—just like good food. It just so happens not to be dead animals.”

Whether food-curious or true vegans, Slutty Vegan playfully adorns those who sample her burgers with the distinction of being “sluttified.” Among the list of “sluttified” patrons are celebrities, such as actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, rapper Lil Baby, and longtime vegan rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri. Cole appreciates the celebrity endorsements, not just because they’ve help explode her brand but because they’ve furthered awareness to the vegan movement—a movement which has grown six-fold since 2014 according to new research.

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“To see so many people endorsing this movement, shows me that we are progressing,” says Cole, who was raised on her Jamaican mother’s meat-free Rastafarian diet but then fully committed to veganism four years ago. “The purity that I feel in my soul is because I’m not eating the flesh of a dead animal. And that’s the message that I want to preach to people, and I’ve been doing so for the last few weeks.”

Cole, who ironically came from a career as a casting director for Iyanla: Fix My Life, sees herself as a crusader for veganism, in which she hopes to fix the lives of others through the health benefits of plant-based eating.

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“You can heal yourself. And even if it starts with vegan junk food, it’s the first step in the right direction,” Cole says, touting the diet, which is linked to lower cholesterol, improved heart health and better management of diabetes. And that passion might just be Cole’s recipe for success.

When asked about next steps for Slutty Vegan, she doesn’t mention a focus on bottom lines, market shares or scalability; she just talks about pursuing more ways to heal her community through food awareness.

Photo Credit: Slutty Vegan

“This is the advice that I would give to entrepreneur if it’s something that you want to do, make sure it’s something that you naturally love to do,” concludes Cole, leaving future startups a message to chew on.