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Pinky Cole’s Not Afraid To Show Love To Her Community—Here’s How She’s Doubling Down

Cole shares the evergreen guidance she has for aspiring and rising business owners.

By EatOkra

updated on 25 Jun, 2024

When Pinky Cole started Slutty Vegan, she wanted to create an experience customers had never seen before. That was back in 2018, when the concept kicked off from Cole’s two-bedroom apartment, where burger orders were processed through Instagram.

Six years later, the vegan burger-centric brand has expanded to 14 locations across the country and an off-shoot foundation, but the mission remains the same. “I am making people fall in love with the idea of the experience more than the food,” Cole tells EatOkra. “We want them laughing, screaming, dancing, having a good time, feeling like they're the most important person in the world.”

It also doesn’t hurt that, judging by the reviews from vegans and non-vegans alike, the food slaps.

These days, Cole is hyper-focused on evolving the brand and expanding its reach to as many people as possible. Following the success of the city tours she’s implemented in the past, Cole's now experimenting with residencies, wherein Slutty Vegan takes over restaurants across the country, sometimes for up to a month.

But, as has always been the case, her efforts go beyond Slutty Vegan. In an effort to highlight Black culinary excellence (especially spots that have fallen under the radar), she’s most recently partnered with Pepsi Dig In, calling on food lovers to nominate their favorite Black-owned restaurants. As part of the Dig In Show Love campaign, the winning restaurant will receive resources to take their business to the next level, including access to Square point of sale tools and inclusion in Pepsi Dig In’s Restaurant Royalty Residency at MGM Resorts. There’s plenty of reward for the nominator, too: They’ll earn a trip to New Orleans for the 2025 Super Bowl as well as JetBlue travel certificates.

It’s a full-circle moment for Cole, who says Pepsi Dig In supported Slutty Vegan in its early stages. “This is a brand that really activates and puts their money where their mouth is,” says Cole. “Over the years, we've kept our relationship. It was time to officiate our relationship by way of this restaurant royalty program.”

Speaking of officiating, Cole celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary with husband and fellow entrepreneur, Derrick Hayes, another valuable relationship as it concerns the Slutty Vegan empire. “Sometimes you need that springboard, and I am that for him as well,” says Cole. “And I love that for us. Usually, people have to pay for that. We don't even have to step outside these walls to get what we need, we can look right across the room and get it.”

EatOkra caught up with Cole to learn how Slutty Vegan is doubling down on its mission to serve the greater restaurant community, the evergreen guidance she has for aspiring and rising business owners, and what she’s most excited about heading into the second half of the year.

You’ve emphasized in the past that resources can be just as important as money from a long-term investment standpoint. Does this still ring true for you?

Pinky Cole: Absolutely. The most successful people in the world have had really good resources—whether it's money, whether it's relationships, whether it's time, whether it's access. As entrepreneurs, we need resources like we need air. That’s really going to help take you to the next level and it'll differentiate your business from being something you're just trying to something that is nationally recognized and set up for success. Resources are absolutely important.

In what everyday ways can consumers show love for the Black-owned restaurants they value?

Cole: Patronize a business. If you don't do anything else, go inside of somebody's establishment and buy something, because you don't realize that one transaction is putting somebody in a position to be able to pay for their family and sustain themselves. That one transaction allows somebody the opportunity to be able to scale their business. All we’re asking for is support. Because the level of support that we get from consumers every single day allows us to pay our bills, allows us to pay our employees, allows us to make sound decisions.

Now, as restaurateurs, we also have an obligation to show up as the best in class—to give the best hospitality, the best energy, experience and customer service, and the best food so that people can continue to come back and support us.

You've pushed boundaries and really leaned into organic marketing and brand strategy—what have you learned in the process and what can other business owners learn from this success?

Cole: I realized that there is a shift in the economy, and that the best businesses in the world learn how to get super creative and pivot. So what I started doing is taking my efforts on the road. I'm bringing the food to the people. I started a food truck campaign, where I'm going from city to city, taking over restaurants and/or pulling up my food trucks. And guess what that's doing? It’s getting people excited all over again. It's a great revenue driver by way of marketing. And it allows us to understand, “Do we add a location here based on this experience today?” That is just one strategy in how I build the business. And I'm not paying for it. It's free marketing, and I get to brand it in a certain way that makes people appreciate it.

My advice: Be your whole, total self. Don't sugarcoat. Don't do anything scripted. Only do what makes your belly leap, what makes your spirit jump. Be your holistic, honest self. And what happens when you do that, in business especially, is you build up a community of people that love you for you. They love your flaws, they love the highs and the lows, and they're willing to ride this thing out with you because they believe in you. But you’ve got to be authentic and you've got to keep it real. Always.

What are you most excited about heading into the second half of the year and beyond?

Cole: I'm excited about getting over the hump. We are a very popular brand. People know and love us. But there are still parts of the world where they've never heard of us, they don't know what a “slutty” is, people are still getting offended. And I am excited about getting to the space where everybody can remove the ego and understand that “slutty” has nothing to do with sex. And the minute that I do that, that means I've tapped into all angles of people. And then we become a universal brand. And becoming a universal brand will show Black-owned businesses the depth in which you can go as long as you stay the course and continue to be unapologetically Black. But you can still create something that everybody can appreciate.

The Dig In Show Love campaign is accepting submissions until June 30. Nomination your favorite Black-owned restaurant here.