With its provocative name and plant-based burger-and-fries menu, the Slutty Vegan quickly became the hottest food truck in Atlanta — selling suggestive concoctions like the Ménage à Trois, a vegan patty loaded with vegan bacon and shrimp, and a messy mix of lettuce, tomato and special sauce.
Now, some six months after its debut, and with a new brick-and-mortar storefront open on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard in Westview, the brand from Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole has gone viral.
Over Super Bowl weekend, long lines snaked around a blacktop lot in West Midtown, where the food truck was parked for a Nike promotion. And on Saturday afternoon in Westview, another crowd camped out with lawn chairs in front of the restaurant, several hours before it was scheduled to open.
A recent piece on multicultural marketing in Forbes explained the allure this way: “The magic of this comfort food restaurant is that it is introducing veganism to African-Americans, and making it fun and accessible for them to give it a try.”
But for Cole, who grew up in a single-parent family in Baltimore, and graduated from Clark Atlanta University in 2009, opening a place for vegans to indulge in fun food was the culmination of an unlikely journey that took her from Atlanta to Los Angeles and New York City and back again.
During that time, Cole worked as a television producer on shows such as “Judge Karen’s Court.” And taking another turn, she opened Pinky’s Jamaican and American Restaurant on 145th Street in Harlem.
“I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of becoming an actress,” Cole said, standing near the order counter at the Slutty Vegan in Westview. “I was flat broke, living with six people in a three-bedroom house in West Hollywood, and one of my sorority sisters offered me the opportunity to be production assistant on a court TV show.
“It turned out I was really good at it, and within two months, I was promoted to a television producer. I relocated to New York and got an opportunity to work on a few shows there, including ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ and the Maury Povich show. But please don’t judge me.”
Tired of tabloid TV, but with a nest egg, and dreams of starting her own business, Cole took a chance and opened Pinky’s in Harlem.
“I didn’t know anything about the restaurant industry. I just knew that I loved to cook, so I took the opportunity,” Cole said. “But the type of stuff I learned in that restaurant, they don’t teach you in school. It did extremely well. We had lines outside the door, similar to what you see now.
“Then one day I had a grease fire and my restaurant burned down. I didn’t have fire insurance and I lost everything. But that was actually the best thing that could have ever happened to me and my journey and my story, because I ended up getting an opportunity to work as a casting director for ‘Iyanla’ that gave me a chance to heal from my restaurant PTSD.”
Cole moved back to Atlanta when “Iyanla” filmed its fifth season here, then suddenly decided she wanted to try to open another restaurant.
“I was in the house one day and I was like, ‘I want to do this, again. I’m ready,’” Cole said. “And then it hit me like a light bulb: ‘Slutty Vegan.’ It literally came out of nowhere. And then after the name, I thought, ‘How can I connect this with people?’ Because coming to Atlanta, being a vegan, not being able to have the options I wanted, I wanted to make something fun for people like me.
“And for people who aren’t vegans, who just wanted to have something good, I wanted to break down all those stigmas about what being a vegan and plant-based is.”
Asked about reactions to the name, Cole was clearly ready for the question.
“I know it’s provocative,” she said. “I know that sex sells. But if I can really transition this from being a sexual, provocative thing to something that’s going to make you pay more attention to the vegan lifestyle, then I’m on the right track.”
As for the future, television may soon be returning to Cole’s life. But she will be the star of the show, instead of the producer.
“I’m working on a reality show right now with a major production company,” she said and smiled. “It’s one of the biggest companies out there. So it’s coming. And it’s going to be fun and slutty.”
1542 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. SW, Atlanta. 470-869-0707, sluttyveganatl.com.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at the Slutty Vegan in Westview