Last Tuesday, more than 2,000 people waited in a mile-long line along Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard in Atlanta’s West End. Nothing, not even the 90-degree weather, could deter them from the promise of a free burger, fries and drink (and mask, for those not wearing one) from Slutty Vegan, the plant-based burger joint that’s been serving even the most dedicated carnivores since 2018.
The on-the-house food was courtesy of a few of the restaurant’s celebrity stalwarts—Lala Anthony, Gabrielle Union, Chris Paul and Ludacris—who spent more than $15,000 to buy out the restaurant for a day after a slew of one-star ratings described the restaurant as being anti-police and called for it to shut down. The negative reviews were left in response to Slutty Vegan’s founder, Pinky Cole, announcing she would be partnering with Clark Atlanta University to provide the children of police brutality victim Rashard Brooks with $600,000 worth of scholarships to the historically black university, which happens to be Cole’s alma mater.
Cole tells Forbes that Slutty Vegan’s fans took it upon themselves to inundate review sites with more than 20,000 positive reviews to overshadow the poor ones. This week’s buyout was just the icing on the cake.
“The bigger lesson here is when a business does a lot for the people, those people will make sure that the business is protected,” Cole says. “That’s the definition of love and unity that we need to see more of.”
Cole is no stranger to community philanthropy. Growing up, her Jamaican mother had an open-door policy at home and provided free meals to people in the neighborhood. At Clark Atlanta University, where Cole was crowned queen of her class, she spearheaded a program called “Selfless” to help promote community service at the school.
Shortly after founding Slutty Vegan in 2018, she launched the business’ philanthropic arm, the Pinky Cole Foundation. The foundation recently partnered with Impossible Foods and rapper Jermaine Dupri to launch Votenik, a nationwide campaign that uses pop up food trucks to encourage voter turnout at sites in communities where voting is traditionally low.
“We are coming up with ways to make the whole voting system cool so that young people will want to be a part of it,” says Cole.
Her latest project, which is slated to launch in August, involves working with Black-owned life insurance company Atlanta Life to help provide life insurance for Black male residents throughout the city in an effort to “close the generational gap,” says Cole.
Slutty Vegan will soon be feeding more mouths across Atlanta: Cole will be opening up two additional locations later this summer in Old Fourth Ward, the historic section best known as the neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. spent his childhood.
She’s still “catching her breath about it all.” What started as an idea formed in her two-bedroom apartment in July 2018 will soon blossom into a franchise with national philanthropic influence. But in many ways, Cole’s not surprised. Giving back has always been in her blood—and she intends to keep it part of Slutty Vegan’s identity as the concept continues to evolve.
“Yes, the food is good,” says Cole, “but it’s bigger than food. It’s really about using our platform for good. We’re doing the work. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”