When you hear the name Slutty Vegan, chances are Pinky Cole has successfully caught your attention as you stop to wonder just what kind of business is this. Knowing that sex sells, the Baltimore native intentionally wanted a business name that would pique people’s curiosity and be a conversation starter. Once that conversation is started, one will find that it really has nothing to do with sex at all but about a plant-based burger joint that happens to have a sexy menu consisting of burgers and fries.
“It came to me like a light and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it, Slutty Vegan’ and everything started coming to me because I was like how can I get our people [Black people] to buy into this product without feeling it is boring and its vegan, so I don’t want to be a part of it,” says Cole who left a career in TV to start the business of just six months. “To see young adults and their parents and their friends and children come and stand in line to get some vegan food, really initiates the conversation in the right direction.”
The Wait is Worth the Experience
One of the lines she is referring to is at a food truck park located at 1850 Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta, Ga. Within just a few months, Cole and her Slutty Vegan team have amassed a cult following of 69K followers on Instagram, many waiting with bated breath to see where they will be next. As I walked into the park on a crisp December evening, my mouth drops as I see a line, that perhaps extended to maybe a quarter of a mile back, of people waiting to victoriously get to the food truck’s window to place their order. I arrived at 7 p.m. Many had been in line since 4:30 p.m. They start taking orders at 6 p.m. Grooves by Wizkid, Childish Gambino and others played to offer a distraction from the wait.
Word spread amazingly fast about the newest plant-based venture on wheels that started in August of last year. Slutty Vegan is Cole’s second food venture, with the first being Pinky’s Jamaican and American Restaurant in New York which she opened in 2014. A grease fire in 2016 left the restaurant inoperable and because her business insurance did not cover the property, she lost everything — a lesson not to be repeated as she plans to open a Slutty Vegan brick and mortar location on Sunday, January 13.
Cole initially planned to just operate out of a shared kitchen, but as the hype grew, she knew she had to take it the next level and a food truck was the answer. Postings on Instagram share where they are going to be week by week with a cautionary warning about waiting in line.
As I waited at the front of the truck where you pick up your order, I couldn’t help but take part in the second part of the Slutty Vegan experience; waiting for your food. Everyone cheered each other on when your name was called because that meant it was your time, as someone jokingly said, “to be slutty.”
Kim from Norcross (about 30 minutes from Atlanta) was there for the first time and found out about Slutty Vegan from Instagram. On the other hand, it was Cherelle’s 4th time there she tells me while waiting for her food. She got to the park at 4:45 p.m. When I asked one couple if the experience was really worth it, they tell me they have waited before in 30-degree weather for three hours and the food is so good that yes, it makes the experience unforgettable in the best way.
The Road Leads Back to Plant-Based
Growing up in Maryland with Rastafarian parents, Cole says they followed a vegetarian diet. She consumed meat at one time in her life noting, however, that is has been 11 years since doing so. She became a vegan four years ago.
She graduated from Clark Atlanta University before heading off to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. When things didn’t work out in front of the camera, Cole added producer for the “The Maury Show,” along with others to her resume. When her restaurant in New York closed, the door opened to work with Iyanla Vanzant as the casting director for her show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” which she continued to work on before starting Slutty Vegan.
With the spirit of entrepreneurship drawing her back, Cole is excited about the purpose of Slutty Vegan and how it is changing lives, especially of Black people. “It has been an amazing roller coaster ride. I never anticipated having this much momentum but my team and I are some revolutionaries and people are not only buying into the food, but they are buying into the experience. We are evoking a set of emotions when you come to the Slutty Vegan,” says Cole.
The emotions start while browsing the menu to decide if you want a One Night Stand (plant-based patty, vegan bacon, American cheeze, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and special sauce on a Hawaiian bun), a Ménage à Trois (plant-based patty loaded with vegan bacon and shrimp, topped with lettuce tomato and special sauce) or Heaux Boy (vegan shrimp tossed in a New Orleans style batter, served on a Hawaiian bun with pickles, lettuce and drizzled with secret sauce); just a few of the options to choose from. While customers have fun playing around with the names, in the end there is an evitable change in the way they now think about plant-based food which opens the door to exploring the lifestyle even further. The precise impact Cole wants to make.
The opportunity to introduce more people to delicious plant-based food is fueling the excitement behind the opening of the new Slutty Vegan restaurant that will be located at 1542 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. in Atlanta’s Westview neighborhood. The restaurant will open with the current menu, but Cole notes that the team is always trying new things, including a vegan ham sandwich that will make its debut soon.
“It is fun to be vegan because you really have to create recipes and things that you normally wouldn’t eat to make things work. I get to explore different fruits and vegetables. Food has meaning now.”