In 2016, Jamaican-American diner Pinky Cole in the Harlem area of New York City caught fire.
The fat fire destroyed the restaurant. Cole says her inexperience as an entrepreneur has laid a nail in the coffin. The damage from the fire was not covered by a proper form of insurance, so she scoured the ruins of a failed business, trying to figure out what went wrong and – more importantly – what she could improve next time.
What a difference six years can make. Today the 34-year-old Fr. author of a cookbookphilanthropist and owner of a lively network of vegan burgers in Atlanta, which opened in 2018. The four seats of the restaurant draw long queues and loyal fans – both vegans and meat lovers – with this provocative name, vibrant atmosphere and ethos that connects to Atlanta’s strong black cultural ties.
Its popularity also comes from Cole efforts to return to the urban black community through its nonprofit Pinkie Cole Foundation. Put it all together, she says, and people flock to Slutty Vegan for food, a sense of community and Cole herself.
“I’m a young black woman who moves and trembles, and has a history of sadness and triumph,” Cole told CNBC Make It. “People appreciate it. And people see themselves in me. “
Cole’s goal is to make Slutty Vegan a billion-dollar brand over the next few years. This will require serious work: in 2021, Slutty Vegan’s revenue was $ 10 million to $ 14 million, according to CNBC Make It, and most billion-dollar companies earn at least $ 100 million in annual revenue. (Cole declined to confirm Slutty Vegan’s annual income.)
However, she is not only confident. “You have a great story. You have great food,” Cole says. “Why don’t people want to support it?”
Cole, a native of Baltimore, says she has always been a “hatler” – a quality she inherited from her father, who was jailed for his role in a Baltimore drug gang around the time she was born and spent more than two years in prison. decades. . “It wasn’t legal, but he was a big entrepreneur,” Cole says.
It took Cole some time to figure out what form her dream of owning a billion-dollar business could take. A veteran television producer who cashed in his $ 401,000 and borrowed from a family friend to open his diner in New York in 2014, Cole returned to the world of television as a producer and casting director more than two years after the fire .
By 2018, she lived in Atlanta and was ready to make another shot. Vegan for almost ten years, she says the name “lewd vegan” came to her like thunder before her eyes. It is deliberately brazen and provocative, designed to challenge the notion that vegan food is stuffy or boring.
For four months, the slutty vegan was a fuss in the shared commercial kitchen – until Cole was fired from her daily job for being too focused on her new business, she says. From there in January 2019, it expanded to a food truck and then to its first job in January 2019. By that time she had built the following cult: 1200 customers appeared at a 635-square-foot restaurant on opening day.
The word “Slutty” on the door – along with menu items like a vegetable hamburger Fussy Hussy or roasted pickles Skinny Dipper – attracts customers who might not otherwise be able to give vegan food a chance. The aesthetics of the interior also creates the atmosphere of the party with loud music and bright graffiti on the walls.
“I wanted to negate all these notions that only certain people can eat vegan food,” says Cole. “The public is a carnivore. I love it when … they’re pleasantly surprised.”
Cole, whose daughter was born last summer to her partner and fellow entrepreneur Derrick Hayesoften talks about using Slutty Vegan to create wealth for generations – for her family and others in the black community.
“When we talk about the true wealth of generations, they don’t teach us because we are growing,” she says. “We are not taught business and financial literacy, especially where I come from.”
In 2019, Cole launched The Pinkie Cole Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting economic growth and financial literacy in color communities. The fund, which is primarily funded by Cole and Debauched Vegans, has repaid student loans and funded scholarships to Clark University’s Clark Atlanta alma mater, created scholarships for juvenile offenders in Atlanta and donated thousands of pounds of products to non-Atlanta nonsecurity.
Cole also teamed up with Clark Atlanta bail $ 600,000 on a scholarship for four children of Reishard Brooks, a black man shot dead by police in Atlanta in 2020.
Of course, her own dream of creating a wealth of generations by owning a billion-dollar business is far from reasonable. Joe Pavlak, managing director of research and consulting firm Technomic in the catering industry, says Cole has worked well so far, but he is “skeptical” that the $ 1 billion estimate is just around the corner.
“It takes several years to determine the number of places needed and the next to reach that level,” Pavlyak says. He currently puts Cole’s business behind larger vegan and vegetarian competitors such as the vegan Veggie Grill chain of Santa Monica, which has 31 restaurants in five states.
Cole also wants to expand – starting from the southeast and then moving north, she says. In January She said to Essence that she eventually wants to be able to discover every month a promiscuous vegan in a new U.S. city. The problems, Pavlak notes, will be constant interaction with customers in new cities and conquests over non-vegans.
Victory over carnivores seems doable. The community aspect will be more complicated. Cole says she recognizes that her expansion plans depend on repeating Slutty Vegan’s unique connection to the city of Atlanta elsewhere, which could require an incredible amount of time, energy and resources.
Just don’t tell her it’s impossible. “I already have a billion dollars,” Cole said. “A billion dollars just isn’t in the bank yet.”