Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.
Plant-based, but make it sexy. At least that's Pinky Cole, the founder of Atlanta-based vegan eatery Slutty Vegan's motto.
"It was really just a way to tie you in to eat vegan food and experience it in a way that you've never done before," the 34-year-old business owner tells Yahoo Life about the restaurant's attention-grabbing name.
"I'm like, alright, how can I create something that's racy, raunchy, fun and will make people ask questions."
While the restaurant doesn't actually have anything to do with sexual promiscuity, Cole finds similarities in the two indulgences.
"I knew that if I named it Pinky's Vegan, nobody was going to come, but Slutty Vegan had a ring to it because I merged the two most pleasurable experiences in life: sex and food," says Cole. "We like sex, we need food."
And so it was written. The first Slutty Vegan location opened in July 2018, offering plant-based alternatives to popular fast food bites with menu names that mimic the salacious branding of the company. From the Sloppy Toppy Jalapeño burger to their Ménage À Trois vegan shrimp burger, Cole has truly committed to the bit. But beyond enticing titles and saucy recipes, Cole's mission for Slutty Vegan is more reflective of her desire to effect change in her community.
"So many people really don't know how to go vegan, how to live vegan, they don't know anything about it," she says of her desire to create a restaurant that provides access to vegan food options for communities that struggle with hypertension, cholesterol, obesity and a host of other food-borne ailments.
Cole herself has been a "devout" vegan for eight years.
"I don't play," she says. "No chicken gravy on my plate. Like, everything that I do, I'm serious about this lifestyle and I love being vegan because I get to teach other people about plant-based foods."
She grew up with a Rastafarian mother who she accredits with teaching her about food consciousness from an early age. "I already kind of had a heads up," she explains, "because I grew up around a woman who was very natural in everything that she did, not just the food that she consumed."
Currently Slutty Vegan employs over 200 people, has five locations and two food trucks and is quickly growing into one of the most recognizable plant-based fast-food chains.
But success has not come easy for the Baltimore native. Before creating Slutty Vegan, Pinky actually owned another restaurant: a Jamaican spot in Harlem. "I was selling oxtails and jerk chicken, telling people it tasted good," she says, adding that, in hindsight, she realizes the venture was not her true calling since she couldn't eat most of the food. "I wasn't in alignment with what I was supposed to be doing."
Two years after opening, Cole's Jamaican restaurant was destroyed in a grease fire.
"I lost everything, my car got repoed, I got evicted, like everything fell apart for me," she says of her first venture into the restaurant business.
Cole didn't let this deter her. Instead, she used it as an opportunity to expand on her talents using some of her previous experiences.
"I got an opportunity within that short amount of time to work as the casting director for Iyanla, Fix My Life on the OWN network," she says. Having previously worked in television, this seemingly non-related career move became the catalyst for the creation of Slutty Vegan.
"While I was working on that show, I temporarily came to Atlanta to work on the show on the ground and that's when I came up with Slutty Vegan," she says, adding that she initially had no plans of the restaurant becoming as big as it is now. "When I came up with the idea, it was just supposed to be a ghost kitchen and that ghost kitchen turned into a food truck, that food truck turned into several brick and mortars and here we are four years later."
Rather than let the trials and tribulations knock her down, Cole saw them as teachable moments.
"I embrace those challenges because those challenges have always made me better," she shares. "Those challenges have always made me smarter, more of an expert, [more] able to share my testimony. So I've been through a lot in business — good, bad and indifferent — and even in those bad moments, there have always been times where I sat back and said, 'What am I learning here? What am I supposed to grow from?' and it's always worked out in my favor because the journey is already written."
Still, Cole admits maintaining this positive outlook can be easier said than done.
"Does it get hard sometimes? Absolutely. Is it hard every time? No," she says. "But through and through, I learned every single day and it's beautiful when you see the evolution of something that just came as an idea to your head."
Now with a 9-month-old daughter and a baby on the way, Cole is not letting life or anything else slow her down, even if motherhood has proven to be its own challenge. "I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to that department," she says. "I'm a really good CEO and I know how to do that very well. I don't know if I excel in the mom department just yet."
Thankfully, Cole is surrounded by a village of supporters she credits for her ability to make her dreams a reality. "This is not a one-man show," she says. "I have help and I wouldn't be able to do all the things that I want to do in business if I didn't have the kind of help that I have."
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