Photo/ The Village Market - Facebook
The pandemic has derailed many dreams, but not Aisha “Pinky” Cole's. The Jamaican-American's restaurant Slutty Vegan has defied the odds and is not only surviving, but it is also thriving.
Like many small businesses, Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta-based eatery is a cog in the wheel of the U.S. economy helping to drive innovation, competition, and economic growth within the communities they serve. Unfortunately, the pandemic and ongoing economic woes have forced many small businesses to shutter. Most will not reopen.
Opening its doors in 2018, Slutty Vegan has grown in popularity due to its decadent plant-based menu offerings like “Hollywood Hooker,” “One Night Stand,” “Ménage à Trois,” and “Sloppy Toppy” that commonly result in hours-long waiting lines. People on the block, food critics, and celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion, Tiffany Haddish, and Tyler Perry can’t seem to get enough of Slutty Vegan's burgers piled with savory toppings. Even in the economic downtown, Pinky managed to open two new locations in Atlanta and increase revenues by 15%. You may wonder, how is this even possible when COVID-19 has canceled almost everything? Pinky Cole, a Jamaican-American television producer turned restaurateur makes the impossible, amazingly possible.
Born to a Jamaican mother who migrated to the United States at the age of 17 and an American father, Pinky learned to help others at an early age. Though her mother worked several jobs to make ends meet, in an interview with Bon Appetit Pinky recalls her mother selflessly allowing fellow Jamaicans to visit and stay in their home until they were secure enough to go out on their own. In addition to providing shelter, her mother would also forgo gifts during the holidays to ensure there was enough money to help others in need. These acts of kindness perplexed a young Pinky but also left an indelible mark on her life.
Pinky also credits her father, who was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on the day that she was born, for helping find her voice. Collect calls from prison and timed visits with her father helped to shape her outlook on the need for systemic change. These collective attributes of her parents were the catalyst for starting the Pinky Cole Foundation.
Pinky has taken concrete steps to assist many within her community through her nonprofit, with the goal of providing opportunities and financial literacy resources. Pinky’s foundation has covered the rent of other Atlanta businesses to keep them afloat during the pandemic, established a partnership with the Department of Juvenile Justice to employ ex-offenders, paid college debt for 30 students to allow them to graduate, and partnered with Impossible Foods to promote Votenik 2020, an initiative aimed at increasing voter registration in preparation for the 2020 presidential election. Pinky also collaborated with Derrick Hayes, owner of Big Dave’s restaurant, to gift a car, college scholarship, and life insurance policies to the widow and children of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer.
A conscientious community partner, Pinky uses her restaurants to effect change within communities at the micro-level. Through the Pinky Cole Foundation, Slutty Vegan donates food to people in need. This helps to meet the needs of those who may be homeless, underpaid, or unable to afford a meal. Her foundation also works to educate the community about the importance of nutrition and provide access to foods that improve health and wellness.
Pinky Cole’s contributions through her restaurants and foundations are an extension of her platform as a former Miss Clark Atlanta University. Capitalizing on the SELFLESS (Setting an Example by Listening First, then Leading Everyone to a Standard of Success) platform, Pinky is putting her money where her mouth is as she makes her mark on Georgia. She plans to continue moving forward by expanding Slutty Vegan to 13 more locations across Alabama, South and North Carolina, and California over the next 18 months. In a recent CNN interview, Pinky shared that “she’s targeting dense locations with few vegan options.” Providing healthier food options in underserved urban areas is one of Cole’s goals.
The world has changed significantly since her days at Clark Atlanta University but SELFLESS service still applies, especially during COVID-19 and for the foreseeable future.