NEW YORK — In the past few years, Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta-based eatery, has attracted a cult-like following with its raunchy approach to veganism.
Celebrities often pop in for a visit. And customers routinely wait through long lines to order from the chain’s cheekily-named menu, which includes the “One Night Stand” burger and the slutty fries.
Owner Pinky Cole opened up the first brick-and-mortar location in 2018 in Atlanta, where the acclaimed burger joint attracted a largely Black customer base. Since then, Cole has added new locations in other parts of Georgia as well as Birmingham, Alabama and Brooklyn, New York.
This month, she will begin a five-city tour to promote her new cookbook, “Eat Plants, B(asterisk)tch: 91 Vegan Recipes That Will Blow Your Meat-Loving Mind.” The Associated Press recently spoke with Cole about her business, her new cookbook and how she’s preparing for a potential economic downturn. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you start your business? And why did you decide to go with a raunchy name?
A: So I started my concept in my two-bedroom apartment while working full-time as a casting director. The idea hit me out of nowhere. I didn’t know a side hustle would turn into a $100 million brand. I thought I was doing something personally for myself. But I was really doing something for people who want to reimagine food in a different way. The name was a catchy way to get people to pay attention. I knew ‘slutty’ and ‘vegan’ didn’t go together. They’re so oddly different that if you put them together, it would make people ask questions.
Q: Speaking of your prior career, how did you transition your broadcast skills to the restaurant business?
A: I know what people pay attention to. I know what gets them bored. I know what gets them to tune in. I learned that working in TV as a producer for the Maury show. I also worked on more therapeutic shows, so I know what pulls on people’s emotions. Our marketing is racy, raunchy and its in-your-face. I’m just producing TV every day.
Q: The chain limits customers to two burgers per order. Have you dealt with any complaints regarding that?
A: No. It’s funny. People don’t even complain standing in line. We do the limit because there’s something in the art of scarcity that people have fallen in love with. If you make it available to them sometimes, but not all the time, it’ll make them come back. Another reason we implemented the limit was because we want to make sure the experience was efficient for customers. We’re still a small business. So the policy might change in the future as we grow.
Q: Many are worried that we might have a recession soon. Are you preparing your business for one?
A: Yes, we are actually in the process of doing that now. You know, it’s a very scary thing. Even for somebody who just raised $25 million, you’d be surprised how fast you can lose it if you’re not conscious about how you spend the money. We are strategically coming up with a game plan. Once upon a time, we were just focused on brick-and-mortar locations. But it takes almost $1 million to build one brick-and-mortar site. Now we are focusing our energy on buying food trucks.
Q: Do you have plans to go global?
A: We’ve already gotten some trademarks internationally. So we are preparing. But I can’t say just yet what we’re preparing for.
Q: Who’s the audience for the new cookbook?
A: This is for the meat eater. The vegans already got it figured out. No limitations – really good food. It just happens to be plant-based.