One scorching hot day in southwest Atlanta, Houston native Tamara Edwards stood in a line that stretched a full block for a chance to get “sluttified.”
“I found out about it on social media and the line has just been crazy and it’s nonstop,” Edwards said. “The food looks really, really good. Anything worth the people standing out for, I want to try it.”
Welcome to the world of Slutty Vegan, a 100% plant-based burger restaurant that has become such a food sensation in less than a year that owner Pinky Cole is already working on opening two more locations.
On a typical day, people wait for hours for a chance to sample Cole’s chefed-up versions of Impossible Burgers.
There’s the “One Night Stand,” which features a patty loaded with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and slutty sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun.
The “Ménage à Trois” comes with all that and adds some vegan shrimp.
Cole gives a nod to her Jamaican heritage with menu items such as the “Dancehall Queen,” which adds sweet jerk plantains to the mix.
No one is more surprised by the success of Slutty Vegan than the Baltimore native who dreamed it all up in her two-bedroom apartment.
“It literally was only supposed to be a ghost restaurant where people only order food online and they pick up through a delivery service,” said Cole, who graduated from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta. “But I wasn’t thinking big enough because what I felt was only going to be a ghost restaurant turned out to be one of the biggest concepts and brands in America.”
She’s not blowing smoke with that.
Using her background as a former television producer (she’s worked on such hits as “The Maury Show” and “Iyanla: Fix My Life”) and her social media savvy, Cole has taken Slutty Vegan from a vision to a food truck and then a restaurant.
Growing black vegan community
She’s also at the forefront of a growing veganism movement among black people.
Spurred in part by the epidemic of diabetes and hypertension in the African American community, the plant-based lifestyle is starting to become so popular that in February PETA celebrated Black History Month with a feature on “29 Black Vegans Saving Animals.”
And while Cole’s burgers and fries aren’t exactly what one would think of as health food, Dymetra Pernell sees it as helping spread the word — especially in the black community — that eating a plant-based diet can be delicious.
Cole credits Pernell as one of her biggest champions. Pernell was the first to use her thriving social media presence to plug Slutty Vegan, Cole said.
The pair met in a shared commercial kitchen space where Pernell was surprised to learn that the delicious-looking and smelling burgers coming from Cole’s area were vegan.
“She gave me the burger to try, and I got upset instantly,” Pernell said, laughing. “Like, wait, who are you and why didn’t I know who you were and why haven’t I heard of you?”
As a naturopath, Pernell has long been trying to help people understand the impact diet has on their health.
“I was one of the people who would always try and to raise awareness about that and how and why heart disease and type 2 diabetes are so prevalent in the [black] community,” she said. “People of color die and suffer at a disproportionately higher rate than any other race or community from chronic diseases and lifestyle diseases.”
Cole jokes that “vegan is the new black,” even as she says it transcends race.
“Veganism is a universal thing and as long as it’s universal, people can come together in the name of food and that’s the most beautiful part about it,” she said. “But black people coming together, especially standing in a long line for hours on end just to enjoy this experience and enjoy the food, it’s really history making.”
Worth the wait
On a typical day, crowds line up several hours in advance to await the small shop’s opening.
Cole’s team greets newbies with cries of “We’ve got a virgin,” while returning guests are “sluts.” It’s take-out only, so virgins and sluts alike are on their own for a dining spot.
She said she came up with the Slutty Vegan name while looking for something sexy that would hook potential customers.
“What I did was I connected a provocative way of putting food and sex together, but it’s positive manipulation because I knew that it wouldn’t have anything to do with sex,” Cole said. “It was really about food and how to connect people to eating healthier.”
It’s worked because stars such as Snoop Dogg, Usher, Tiffany Haddish and others have been featured on the restaurant’s Instagram account raving about being “sluttified.”
Cole said all of her marketing has been via word of mouth and she has never paid a celeb for an endorsement.
“This entire business was just created out of pure intentions and love,” said Cole, who added that many of the celebrities have reached out to her.
“[Celebrities] wanted to try the food because they heard so much great things about it and it wasn’t forced. It was so organic, it was so authentic. And that’s the beauty of Slutty Vegan.”