Why Viola Davis is championing vegan restaurateur Pinky Cole

Viola Davis is championing restaurateur Pinky Cole, who founded plant-based burger chain Slutty Vegan. (Photo: Luca Carlino/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Viola Davis championed restaurateur Pinky Cole, who founded plant-based burger chain Slutty Vegan and is this month's Essence cover story. (Photo: Luca Carlino/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Viola Davis is passionate about plant-based burgers — and the woman bringing them to the people of Atlanta and beyond.

That entrepreneur and philanthropist, Slutty Vegan founder and CEO Aisha "Pinky" Cole, is featured in the latest Essence magazine, posing on the cover with her partner, fellow restaurateur Derrick Hayes.

And Davis, one of her biggest fans, spoke to Essence magazine to champion Cole, who has become a big name in the vegan food community thanks to Slutty Vegan, her chain of plant-based restaurants in Atlanta that's set to start expanding to more cities soon, and whose cookbook, Eat Plants B*tch, is coming out this summer.

But while Slutty Vegan serves everything from stacked vegan shrimp sandwiches to sweet potato pie, it’s more than just the delicious food that has Davis singing the company founder’s praises.

The star initially discovered Slutty Vegan on Instagram, before hiring its food truck to cater one of her film’s sets.

“We were in a pandemic where we were watching George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery and Breonna Taylor on a loop. And it was a constant reminder that we were, and have been in this country, the leftovers," the Oscar winner told Essence. "It’s amazing how people come to life when they are cared for —when they’re literally thought about in any way — their health, their joy, their comfort. And perhaps the secret sauce to her company, other than absolutely awesome food, is that she cares about her people.”

This isn’t the only time that Davis has shared her thoughts on Slutty Vegan’s success. In September 2021, the Fences actress was thanked on the restaurant’s Facebook page for “pouring water” on their flowers, thanks to a clip of the star complimenting Cole and the company.

“The success of Slutty Vegan has been its comfort and steadiness,” Davis explained in the video. “There was something about the way she prepares this food, and the care, that made you feel sort of normal again. Sort of like the world kept its balance.”

Davis has spoken about her journey to more mindful eating before. After receiving a prediabetes diagnosis, she narrated the film A Touch of Sugar in order to spread awareness of the disease.

As she told Eating Well, “When I was diagnosed with prediabetes, I woke up. It made me feel less invincible, which I actually think is a good thing. I already understood that I was predisposed, but I always thought I was going to be the family member that was different. I don't eat a lot of sugar. If I eat sugar, I eat fruit. But I didn't know that it's way more complicated than that. So when I went in and my doctor did the A1C test, that's when [I found out my blood sugar] was elevated. That reading was a slap in the face. I felt that I was already a tiny bit vigilant, but I became hyper vigilant, which is harder to do at 63.”

Cole, meanwhile, speaks out in Essence about her relationship with Hayes, whose Big Dave's Cheesesteaks has had its own celeb champions, including Lena Waithe, Eve, the Migos and Meek Mill.

“To be honest, there was a business concern that I am in the vegan community and he’s not,” she admits. “But what I realize is who cares what people say. Even though we’re different, we can still exist together and still love each other—because we are tapped into each other’s hearts. And whoever’s got something to say about that can kick rocks.”