Sharing success, resources, and inspiration with the Black community.
By Pinky Cole as told to Lyric Lewin
Pinky Cole is founder and CEO of Slutty Vegan in Atlanta, a restaurant focusing on vegan comfort food. She also founded the Pinky Cole Foundation, which helps support entrepreneurs of color through education, training, networking, and fundraising assistance.
It’s my mission to help people reimagine food, especially people who look like me—people of color. I grew up in a Jamaican household. My mother was a Rastafarian, so I already had a door into eating better. But I noticed growing up that my friends didn’t eat like I ate. And then coming to college in Atlanta, it was important for me to make sure I was educating people around me on how to eat better, even if it started with vegan comfort food. I wanted to teach them how not to compromise animals in order to eat well. That concept helped at the time, and it’s growing every single day through Slutty Vegan.
I tell people all the time—I didn’t expect the business was going to be this successful. This was just something I believed in. I wanted people to live better, eat better, and think better—thinking higher of themselves, opening up their consciousness. If I’m able to do that through a restaurant concept by way of food, then I know the intention has been met.
Slutty Vegan could not successfully exist without the city of Atlanta. There is so much cultural history here. And to be able to put a restaurant concept that does not involve any meat in the heart of the South, and for it to still be wildly successful, just shows how much support the people and community in Atlanta give to Black-owned businesses. And you know Atlanta is also called “Wakanda”! It feels good to know that level of support is unwavering. People don’t want anything in return, they just want to see you grow, and they want to see you win.
The crazy part about all this is that I’m known nationally. That wasn’t my intention, to be famous or popular. My intention was really to help people live better. I want that to be my legacy. I’m only 32 years old, and I’ve got women and men in their 60s telling me that I changed their life just through my restaurant concept. This is why I say it’s bigger than just food. At the end of the day, food doesn’t have a color. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is. If I can bring you together in the name of food, and you have an alternative option to eating meat, then I’ve done my job.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in being my own boss and creating my own opportunities and creating opportunities for other people. Because nothing in the world brings me more joy than to see other people win.
When I created my foundation, I wanted to bridge that generational wealth gap, showing people who look like me that you too can be an entrepreneur. Oftentimes in our communities, we don’t have the resources or information to do the things we want to do. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really learned certain details about accounting—and that’s not exclusive to Black people. I learned from the mistakes of my previous restaurants, I learned from Google, and I learned from YouTube. Now I’ve got all of this knowledge, and I’m still learning every day, but I can share that knowledge for free with other people. The problem is, oftentimes we don’t share information. We require people to pay for it. I don’t want to do that. I want to see other people win, I don’t want to be the only person at the top. I don’t want to be the only Black-owned business that’s thriving.
I know what it feels like to lose my house. I know what it feels like to lose my car, I know what it feels like to get my wages garnished. I know how all that feels. So, how can I support other business owners, and help them to not make the same mistakes that I made, and help them become even a better entrepreneur than I am?
At my business, they have a running joke because they say I give too much. Too many discounts, too much free food. And I tell them, “I grew up watching my mother, who was a Jamaican immigrant, work four jobs and bring people from Jamaica and all over to the house when they needed somewhere to stay.” So it’s embedded in me to help people. It’s not mine to keep. As long as I continue to share with people and give people knowledge and advice and resources so that they can be better, that’s a success to me.
Today will never look like tomorrow, especially with everything happening with COVID, with everything happening with George Floyd and the protests. We are literally adjusting every single day. I’m grateful to be a part of history. I’ll be able to tell my children about this. I’ll be able to say my company lived through a historic moment in time when we’ve gotten justice for somebody who was wrongfully murdered at the hands of a police officer. Now it’s up to me as an entrepreneur to make sure that what I’m putting out is in line with what’s happening historically in our country.
I just went to Mexico. It was a group—all of us have over a million dollars in the bank, all Black women, and when we got there this white guy greeted us by saying, “What’s up dark ladies? What’s up my dark ladies?” And I was so shocked, because I’ve never been spoken to like that.
All of us are educated Black women. Only one person spoke up on our behalf, because I was so much in shock. Do I categorize all white people as the same? Absolutely not. But to be on the receiving end of that just hurts. When stuff like this happens in the world, as sad as it sounds, it’s no surprise. We see it all the time. As a Black woman, privilege feels different. We don’t have it like our counterparts.
Even for me as an entrepreneur, every single day I fight a battle to make sure that no one puts a stigma on my business. There is a lingering thought that Black-owned businesses can’t be successful, and they don’t have good customer service. That’s simply not true.
I think this is the first time where the world said they were tired. It’s not just Black people that said we were tired. The world finally said that they were tired. And they were finally feeling this change was happening. But it just sucks that it had to be as a result of a Black man getting murdered. As a Black person, it’s sad that it’s like, “Damn, another one? Another one of us?”
It’s just not fair this keeps happening to us. And this is part of the reason why I get so much support. I get so much love from the community because they are proud. They feel like they’re a part of the journey to grow with that success. This is why after two years, I’ve still got lines out the door. After two years, people still come and support me. Because this is a victory for them. We’ve had many unspoken victories, but now this is a public victory that everybody knows about, and it’s one of us. And that feels good.
The protests are bigger than people burning down buildings and looting and rioting. I think people get too focused on that, so yes, businesses are getting destroyed, which is unfortunate. However it shouldn’t have taken this tragedy for our voices to be heard. Do I condone people destroying businesses? Absolutely not. But sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get some answers.
Now, as a business owner, I’m peacefully protesting. My peaceful protest is moving my money to a Black bank. It’s me encouraging people to vote, and giving them the tools and resources so they know where to vote, and how to do it, and what to do, and getting the information they need. If we’re ignorant about information, then we can’t win. Knowledge is power.
But now, what is our plan of action? What are we going to do? And when I say “we,” I’m not just talking about Black people. Because it wasn’t just Black people out there. It was Black, white, Asians—it was everybody. What are we going to do? Because we can’t protest every single day. So beyond the protests, how are we going to continue the narrative that we want change and equality?
For my business, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing and giving back to the community. We’ve been doing the work. Philanthropy is at the core of who we are. I just want to encourage and implore business owners and people who have been protesting to take an action far beyond holding up a sign. I hope people take long-term action where we can really make change, so that we can finally see equality amongst all people.