A popular vegan restaurant chain is reclaiming the owner’s roots with a new spot that opened in Harlem.
Pinky Cole has been a foodie from the time she was young. Having grown up in a Caribbean household, Cole says that cooking was a priority at home.
“As I got older, I realized how much I like to eat home-cooked meals,” said Cole.
Cole would go on to open Pinky’s Jamaican & American Restaurant in Harlem, which ended up losing in 2016 after a fire. Still wanting to be in the food industry, Cole knew she had to switch gears.
What came out of it was Slutty Vegan, a plant-based establishment that prides itself on serving delicious vegan food. Cole says the name came to her one night when was sitting in her apartment.
“I was in my bedroom and it hit me like a light bulb. It just clicked. I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I’m gonna come up with a concept called Slutty Vegan,’ and I called my friends and [they said] I needed to do it. That’s literally how the concept got going,” said Cole. “I had no blueprint, I had no business plan, nothing. I just had a really good name and I just started running with it and the name set out so much that people either loved it or wanted to be a part of what it meant or they hated it so much that they would spew negativity around me, which would get me in press anyway.”
Cole first opened Slutty Vegan in July 2018, running the restaurant out of her apartment with orders on Instagram before the first official brick-and-mortar location opened in Atlanta, Georgia in October that same year.
“When I created [Slutty Vegan], it was really just a way to like to feed the need of me wanting to get some really good food on a late night, and as a vegan, I was tired of eating fries and a side salad,” said Cole.
The Slutty Vegan menu is composed of plant-based burgers and sandwiches that are loaded with toppings, plus options for fries and desserts. When it came to designing the Slutty Vegan menu, Cole was very purposeful in creating options that don’t immediately taste like “vegan food.”
“I’ve been vegan for about 10 years now and eating vegan food is not fun to me. I want to eat food that does not taste vegan, I know that sounds so backward. If it takes too vegan, I, as a vegan, don’t want it. I want the food to taste what I was used to eating back in the day,” said Cole. “So when I created the recipes, I created it with a meat eater in mind. I wanted it to be for people who just like really, really good food and didn’t want to compromise flavor.”
Cole says that one of the most popular burgers they offer is the One Night Stand, which is a plant-based burger topped with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and “slut sauce” on a vegan Hawaiian bun. Because there are a number of vegan elements on each sandwich, making sure each thing didn’t feel like vegan food was important to Cole.
“When they eat Slutty Vegan, they don’t even realize that they’re not eating meat because the texture is good. You have crunchy, you have chewy, it feels like you’re eating an all-American burger that came from a cow, but instead, no animals were compromised in the preparation of a Slutty Vegan burger,” said Cole.
Slutty Vegan exploded in popularity, with several more locations opening in Georgia and Alabama, as well as Slutty Vegan’s first New York City location opening in Brooklyn in September 2022, becoming a multi-million dollar business. The success also led to Cole publishing a vegan cookbook called “Eat Plants, B*tch: 91 Vegan Recipes That Will Blow Your Meat-Loving Mind!”, which was released in November 2022.
“I’m still in shock sometimes to be honest because I can’t believe that so many people love this part as much as they do,” said Cole.
Slutty Vegan recently opened a new restaurant in Harlem, seven years after the unfortunate loss of Cole’s previous restaurant.
“It was a big full-circle moment. Everything in my life I’ve ever touched always turned to gold except for that restaurant I had in Harlem that I once upon a time looked at as a failure,” said Cole. “So to be able to come back into that atmosphere and that energy you can do it all over again in a new and a crude way and be successful at it, because you only get a first chance, you don’t get a second chance to make the same mistake. While it feels good, the pressure is high I’ll be honest, but people are coming, the lines are around the block, people are supporting the brand.”
As for the future of Slutty Vegan, there are more locations to come, and things are only looking up.
“I’m excited to begin to be everywhere. We got a lot of big things happening too, and what I do know for sure is that I’m gonna make sure that they are successful,” said Cole. “Right now, I’m just ensuring that Harlem has everything that it needs to thrive and be successful.”
For more information about Slutty Vegan, visit sluttyveganatl.com.