Interview With Vegan Restaurateur Pinky Cole | Daiya Dairy-Free Cheese

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A Full Interview With Vegan Restaurant Owner Pinky Cole

Posted on February 24, 2021

Photo of Pinky Cole - plant-based food specialist in Atlanta, GA

Pinky Cole is an entrepreneur, vegan restaurant owner, community leader and a positive power in the plant-based space. Her successful restaurant, The Slutty Vegan, opened in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2018. Starting 2021 with plans to expand the Slutty Vegan brand into new locations across the county, Pinky sits down with us to discuss the importance of community, giving back, and leading as an activist and strong advocate for plant-based living. 

Pinky’s plant-based journey begins early and has Ital (food celebrated by the Rastafari movement) and Caribbean influences. 

She states, “I have been familiar with plant-based and just a more conscious level of eating from the time I came out of the womb. My mother is a Rastafarian, that’s like Ethiopian Christianity. She grew up just eating a lot of Ital food. Ital, meaning food from the earth, food with little or no salt, and just a lot of vegetables, root vegetables. And she would only eat fish. So growing up, I saw how my mother ate and we ate what she ate in the household. So while there were other children in my neighborhood who grew up around me who were eating Burger King and McDonald’s, and like all the fast food with the burgers and fries, I actually grew up in a Caribbean household where we were eating yams and green bananas and rice and peas and, things more natural from the earth.”

Seven years ago, Pinky decided to commit to eating fully plant-based. The decision to do so was made with clarity and with an unwavering commitment to overall health and well-being. 

She states, “I just try to figure out ways to just be a better version of myself. So when I did it, I went cold turkey. It was not a hard transition. Um, and that was actually the best decision that I made in my life. Because it allowed me to be at my most optimal health. Like I have the most clarity that I’ve ever had in my life. My level of frequency is just on a thousand. My vibration is always high and I see the difference…”

Photo of Pinky Cole - plant-based food specialist in Atlanta, GA

After going vegan and experiencing a plethora of vegan options in Los Angeles, California, Pinky realized that there was untapped opportunity in the plant-based space in Atlanta. 

She states, “You go to LA, you can get vegan food on every single corner. It doesn’t matter what restaurant you go into, you get vegan food everywhere. So that was my norm, right? So I was used to being able to just have options in the vegan world. And I had to go on location to Atlanta to work. So when I got to Atlanta, I realized that the options were limited. Now, of course they have amazing vegan restaurants in Atlanta, but after eight o’clock you’re on your own, right? You can get fries and a side salad from a fast food joint and just figure it out. So I knew that I could be the solution to a problem because I’m a foodie and I like to eat. So I was in my bedroom. And when I came up with the idea, I’m like, oh my goodness, this works. But the inspiration really was from Los Angeles, California, and seeing how many options, food, vegan, food options they had and how Atlanta needed more vegan food options. And when I did it, I didn’t expect Slutty Vegan to be as wildly successful as it is. I was just really solving a problem.”

Although the original idea to create a restaurant came from the city of Los Angeles, Pinky also highlights the inspiration she found from her mother and her vegan friend in the decision to go plant-based in her own life. Both set an example for giving back to and creating a community with healthy plant-based food options at the center. 

She states, “There is someone I went to school with, um, and I’ve never told her this, her name is Amina. And she was actually one of the first vegans, black vegans, that I’ve ever met in my life. And it was, I don’t know, it just felt like an anomaly. I’m like, I’ve never seen this before. It’s just so magical. Um, and I, to be like her, like how she carried herself, how she lived her life, how she conducted herself and she was another inspiration. So I would say LA, Amina and my mother, obviously were my inspiration to go plant-based.”

So with her inspiration in one hand and a solvable problem in the other, Pinky created a restaurant whose success opened the door for further change and a tight-knit community strongly rooted in the selfless pursuit of giving back. 

She states, “Slutty Vegan is more than just a burger and a fry joint. Right. I have been able to figure out a way to supply all the needs of the communities in which I serve. So we can talk about the food first. Obviously we help people to reimagine food. A good percentage of the people who come to Slutty Vegan, aren’t even vegan. These are people who are meat eaters and are open to the idea of trying vegan food because of Slutty Vegan. Right? So that’s number one. Number two, we get to change the minds of people who would’ve never touched plant-based food ever. And thirdly, there’s a community element here within Slutty Vegan that I think really resonates with the community starting with my foundation, The Pinky Cole Foundation. And what I do in the foundation is I help to bridge the generational wealth gap and, simply put, just provide resources for people who need them in the community. Being able to pull the community up with me and not just put my business in a community and not give back to it.”

The Pinky Cole Foundation has done a number of things to give back, and its positive effects span much further than just the vegan community. All of the foundation’s contributions speak to Pinky’s own identity and advance her goals to enact change. Some of which (but just the surface of all of that this foundation has accomplished) include a $10,000 donation to the Department of Juvenile Justice for its Fresh Start re-entry programs; a partnership with a local business owner and donation of $600,000 in scholarships to the children of Rayshard Brooks, man killed in Atlanta Wendy’s, paid off the balances of students attending Clark Atlanta University; a donation of nearly a thousand coats to people in need; paying rent for local businesses during the pandemic to ensure the doors of community restaurants remain open; partnered with the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation and Georgia Power to pay Atlanta residents past-due electric bills and shut off notices in addition to teaming up with Impossible Foods for VoteNik, a voter registration initiative and much more.. 

She states, “I can go on and on, but the beauty of all of this is that I’m able to use my platform and resources to help people … And the foundation is still young, but philanthropy is at the core of who we are. And again, I said it before, like, yes, it’s a restaurant, and yes, we sell burgers and fries. But like, when you really start to dig deep and dig the layers, we are a really socially responsible marketing company that sells burgers and fries that helps to help people to reimagine food”.

Among all of the ways in which Pinky gives, her agenda is deeply rooted in the desire to provide equal access and opportunity to everyone who wants to try vegan or plant-based foods.  

She states, “My agenda is to continue to do the work, to get people excited about just living better, right? And saving the world, as cliche as it sounds so, as I open these new locations that open in food deserts and food insecure areas where vegan and plant-based options aren’t available, I want people to have access. I think oftentimes, one of the limitations for people wanting to go plant-based is there are no options. So Slutty Vegan is going to create those options by going into the locations that big developers aren’t really interested in and putting Slutty Vegan in and you know, creating that space where people can not only eat vegan food, but we’re also going to help revitalize communities, especially communities that are right in the middle of gentrification. So there’s so many wins for the business this year, we’re opening up seven locations. So we’re excited about that. And with those seven locations, we are on track to be able to have about 20 within the next year and a half.

Slutty Vegan provides an inclusive space and plant-based experience for everyone, not just vegans. In hopes to invigorate new plant-based community members and truly get people excited about eating vegan, Pinky has thoughtfully crafted a unique and fun experience for customers at all of her restaurant locations. 

She states, “Slutty vegan is like the first step to plant-based living, even if it starts at burgers and fries, if we can get you excited about having alternative options, living this way, eating options like this, then when you go to another restaurant and you’ll be more open to trying options, but, um, we’ve done a great job at really kinda like showing people that veganism and plant-based living is cool, and it doesn’t have to be boring and flavorless, and like, you can enjoy it, whether you’re vegan or not”.

With that experience, a lot of what makes the Slutty Vegan experience brilliant, is Pinky’s desire to meet people where they are on their plant-based journey. 

She states, “Just meeting people where they are. I knew that vegan fast food may not oftentimes be the healthiest, it’s a hell of a lot better than eating the flesh of an animal that was compromised. And I wanted people to see that without pushing that rough agenda on them. Plant-based food can taste good and it can be fun and it doesn’t have to be boring and it doesn’t have to be this thing where people think it’s stuffy to live a lifestyle and then just titles. Like we don’t even have to live within titles. Like just having options. If you like to eat meat, that’s your prerogative. But like, be okay with having like a veggie burger here and there, you know, and like a plant-based sausage and be okay with that. And then maybe that’s something that you’ll be more interested in. Just converting your lifestyle. It’s all about the conversion.”

At the heart of all that Pinky does, she radiates a positive energy that evokes a ripple effect of change throughout the vegan community. Whether it’s her selfless commitment to giving, her innovative and entrepreneurial skills changing the plant-based game for the better, or using her platform to shift the narrative around veganism and plant-based living, Pinky is a positive power and will continue to challenge plant-based possibilities. 

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