The 'Slutty Vegan' is changing minds and appetites across the South one bite at a time
Photo by Sterling Pics

Pinky Cole, owner of the Slutty Vegan

Last year, in the middle of what we thought were the darkest times of the COVID-19 pandemic, after endless months of cooking at home, my husband and I decided to venture out of our cocoon and get "slutified." That's what people are called after a visit to one of Atlanta's hottest burger joints, provocatively named, Slutty Vegan.

Owned by 33-year-old fuchsia-loc'd maven and philanthropist Aisha "Pinky" Cole, Slutty Vegan has three locations in the ATL, with more in the works. Her menu reads more like a list of offerings at a bordello than a restaurant, with the "Ménage à Trois," "One Night Stand," and the "Super Slut," and the atmosphere is more like a night club. But, it's not just the cheeky burger names or the concept of plant-based fast food that has customers literally wrapped around the block at all of her locations, it's the vibe she's created. Slutty Vegan is more than a restaurant. It's a culture. And Cole is at the center of it, building a community based on supporting Black entrepreneurs, getting involved in politics, giving back, and being thoughtful about what you put into your body.



Upworthy spoke with Cole as she was hanging out at home with her one-month-old daughter, D. Ella. Now worth seven figures, the restauranteur talked about her recent honor by PETA, growing up the daughter of a Jamaican Rastafarian mother, owning a jerk chicken restaurant in Harlem that tragically burned down, the many brands vying to partner with her, and how vitally important it is for her business to be ethically aligned with her beliefs.

Upworthy: Where did the name come from?

Cole: I was a TV producer for 10+ years. The one thing I know how to do well is to make people pay attention. I know that sex sells and the two most pleasurable experiences in life are sex and food. If I could merge those two experiences, and not make it mucky, but sexy and educational, I knew it would be big, especially in the heart of the South. I'm infusing this concept into culture, music and entertainment. I'm showing you how to eat better, even if it starts with burgers, fries, and pies. I needed the name to be so racy, that you'd pay attention. Then I can start dropping the gems on you. And we have been able to bring people together in the name of food. And to help people reimagine food, especially "flexitarians," -- meaning people who are meat-eaters.

Upworthy: How did you feel being honored by PETA as one of their "Most Beautiful Vegans?"

C: I love what PETA represents. They've supported and rallied for me since the beginning. To be alongside so many other amazing vegans shows me that I'm in the room. Meaning that I'm alongside people who stand for something. People who are making changes in their communities and it feels good to be connected in that way.

Upworthy: Let's talk about The Pinky Cole Foundation.

C: I officially started the foundation in 2019. But, it was just a way of formalizing what I'd been doing for years. I was always a steward of people. I saw my mom do it. She helped everybody anytime she could. She'd take the clothes off her back to help people. The foundation is at the crux of who we are. Slutty Vegan is nothing without the philanthropic aspect. I want to bridge the generational wealth gap. I want people to see that a young woman can start a company and it can be beyond money, but help the community and provide group economics and give back. Money doesn't move me. It's the ability to utilize my resources to help people.


* Cole has supported 30 Clark Atlanta University students in clearing their balances. When Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police in a Wendy's parking lot, Cole provided life insurance for Brooks' family, a new car, and $600K in scholarships for them to go college. She partnered with TV host Steve Harvey and his wife, Marjorie's foundation to pay the electric bills for 100 Atlanta residents. She's donated thousands of pounds of produce and winter coats to local families in need. Cole along with Derrick "D" Hayes, CEO of Big Dave Cheesesteaks, provided life insurance to all Black men in Atlanta who make $30k annually or less, and she partnered with the Department of Juvenile Justice to employ ex-juvenile offenders at Slutty Vegan, and so much more.

Upworthy: How do you encourage and inspire all of your thousands of customers to do something in their own communities?

C: Leading by example. I speak to so many audiences. I speak to women; minorities; children of immigrants; mothers; small business owners; people who come from middle-class families; I speak to so many different people. So, when people come and support Slutty Vegan, they feel like they're represented. People see the representation through me. As long as I continue to be an example that you can do it. You can come from East Baltimore, or like we say, "around the way," and be everything you dreamed of. Pinky Cole did it and I can too. That's the empowerment they see.

Upworthy: What's your philosophy on being vegan as it relates to health, the environment, the Black community, and neighborhoods with obvious food deserts.

C: I don't try to push my agenda on anyone. My audience is people who aren't necessarily vegan. It's like Christianity and Islam. Believe in what you want to believe in. I can show you the way, but I won't make you drink the way. My emphasis is on the experience. I want people to feel good. And feeling good is eating good and thinking good. Emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Food can do that for you. Am I walking around with a sign that says 'Eat Vegan or Die!' No. But, what I will say is, let me show you another way.

Upworthy: Did you feel like you had to recreate traditional fast food, but vegan-style to assure you had customers? Particularly in the South?

C: My father has a saying, 'Success is like mud. You throw something on the wall, something's gonna stick.' And this is what stuck. Obviously, I knew that I had to appeal to my audience. I did that by fusing food and culture. Slutty Vegan has grown so fast because so many celebrities have endorsed the brand. We've been able to utilize other people's platforms, especially celebrities, to expand the brand. So, if you see your favorite celebrity eating something or doing something that you love to do, nine times out of ten, you're going to want to do it. This is me meeting people where they are. Focusing on the entertainment and secondarily the food. We're in the South, so Southern comfort food is at the center of living here. So, how can I get people to eat vegan food in the heart of the South? Put it in the music. Put it in the entertainment. The things people pay attention to. You've got Megan Thee Stallion eating Slutty Vegan, so of course, people who love her want to eat it too. People want to see what all the hype is about.

Upworthy: Have you seen a difference in her customers' tastes and acceptance of veganism as a concept since opening in 2018?

C: When we started, none of the big chains had options, now all of them do. And I like to say that we have been the inspiration for that -- humbly. We were the guinea pigs. We tested the market so they didn't have to. And that's the goal, to get more people to eat plant-based. And that's a win for the plant-based community and for people who want to change their lives and be better.

Upworthy: What do you say when people say being vegan is too pricey for me?

C: It's pricier. But, you pay for your health. If you choose to eat badly all of your life, you're going to be paying for medicine. Either pay for your health now or later. Society doesn't make you think about it that way. I think COVID started to make us think more about our health. This is why Slutty Vegan became even more successful during the pandemic. People wanted to start living better.

Upworthy: What are your tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur?


C: Mess up all the time. I make a lot of conscious mistakes. I make decisions that make sense to me, but sometimes those decisions aren't the best, but that helps me learn. In my first restaurant, when it caught on fire, I was sick. But, that taught me to make sure my paperwork was right and make sure I had fire insurance. Also, alignment is a big thing in business. I believe you have to ask yourself some questions. Why am I starting this business? Who is it going to support? Who is going to help outside of me? If you have pure intentions you will win. Anything I've done, I've done it with pure intentions. Which is why I always win. I'm confident about that because I go to sleep at night knowing that I haven't done anybody wrong and I've moved with good intentions and I've helped people along the way.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

True

The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

Keep Reading Show less

Prior to baby formula, breastfeeding was the norm, but that doesn't mean it always worked.

As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

That might seem logical, unless you understand how breastfeeding works and know a bit about infant mortality throughout human history.

Keep Reading Show less
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

Your cat knows you better than you think.

Cats are often seen as being aloof or standoffish, even with their owners. Of course, that differs based on who that cat lives with and their lifetime of experience with humans. But when compared to man’s best friend, cats usually seem less interested in those around them, regardless of species.

However, a new study out of Japan has found that cats may be paying more attention to their fellow felines and human friends than most people thought. In fact, they could be listening to human conversations.

"What we discovered is astonishing," Saho Takagi, a research fellow specializing in animal science at Azabu University in Kanagawa Prefecture, told The Asahi Shimbun. "I want people to know the truth. Felines do not appear to listen to people's conversations, but as a matter of fact, they do."

How do we know they’re listening? Because the study shows that household cats often know the names of their human and feline friends.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

Keep Reading Show less