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How Slutty Vegan Gained a Cult Following

Learn how Atlanta-based Slutty Vegan won over the hearts of its customers.

10 min read
7/11/2023
Mx Blog - Slutty Vegan Success Story - Eat Plants

Slutty Vegan is a wildly popular Atlanta-based restaurant that has won the hearts of celebrities such as Tyler Perry, Snoop Dogg, and Viola Davis. Founded in 2018, the restaurant’s menu features plant-based dishes with racy names like the ‘Menage a Trois’ and the ‘One Night Stand.’

The restaurant's founder is Pinky Cole, Chief Restaurant Advisor to DoorDash since 2022, serving as a “voice of the industry,” and helping us stay in touch with the needs of independent restaurants.

After personally embracing veganism for over a decade, Cole was working as a casting director in Atlanta when the idea for the business struck. “I came up with the concept first,” she explains. “The name just came out of nowhere.”

During a brief stint as a Dasher, Cole had found herself often picking up deliveries from a ghost kitchen. This experience sparked an idea to start a business of her own as part of a mission to introduce veganism to a wider audience.

With a passion for getting her friends to eat plant-based foods, she began experimenting with different combinations of foods to make veggie burgers and other vegan meals, which led her to open Slutty Vegan as a ghost kitchen. “This is a lifestyle for me,” Cole says. “I love to see my friends get excited about the food that I eat.” 

Mx Blog - Slutty Vegan Success Story - Hero

Vegan food with flair

With her experience in the entertainment industry, Cole knew to infuse the brand with her natural high energy and flamboyance. “This is who I am,” she says. “I have this outgoing personality and I naturally love to help people see food differently.”

Pinky Cole

We're helping to reimagine food in the most fun way possible — by giving people a crazy-ass experience! When you walk into the doors of Slutty Vegan, we call you a slut; we laugh with you, joke with you. The music is booming through the speakers. They fall in love with it every single time.

Pinky Cole, Owner, Slutty Vegan

From the get-go, the appeal of Slutty Vegan wasn’t simply that the food was tasty or healthy; the brand is all about fun. “Vegan burgers existed already, but it was the energy and the entertainment around it that made a difference,” says Cole. 

Cole’s outsized personality shines through every aspect of the brand and customer experience. She is currently promoting a new cookbook titled,  “Eat Plants, B*tch.”

Growing the ‘Slutty’ brand

From the beginning, Cole relied on social media to attract customers. “I got super excited about Instagram and it kept growing,” she says. “I just leaned into our brand and made it fun. It’s raw, it’s organic, it’s not overly produced.”

From ghost kitchen to food truck and beyond, Slutty Vegan gained a name for itself, picking up celebrity endorsements that helped boost awareness. In 2019, Cole opened the first brick-and-mortar location in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta, and it has since expanded to 11 locations. 

Fans flock to Slutty Vegan for its renowned takes on indulgent favorites, including:

  • ONE NIGHT STAND – a burger loaded with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato & Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun 

  • FUSSY HUSSY – a burger loaded with pickles, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato & Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun

  • HOLLYWOOD HOOKER – a vegan chopped Philly with jalapeños, bell peppers and caramelized onions, vegan provolone, lettuce, tomato, ketchup & vegan mayo on a hoagie roll

After word started to get out, Cole knew she needed to expand into more locations. “We just couldn’t meet the demand,” she says. “In order to sustain the business, we really had to turn up the heat — so that’s what we did.”

Pinky Cole

Because it's worked for me, it's worked for all the people that I've connected veganism to for whatever reason — health, planet, resources. There are a million reasons to be vegan and plant-based.

Pinky Cole, Owner, Slutty Vegan

Cole and her team kept an eye out for potential spots where they saw an opportunity for a good fit. “We looked for places with a significant population density that were food and vegan food-insecure areas where we could make our mark. We just recently opened up in Harlem and Brooklyn, which was super-exciting,” she says. Spike Lee even posed for a photo.

“New York is a melting pot," says Cole. "You are getting people from all walks of life to come into your space, and guess what happens when they go home? They go and talk about your brand.”

Expanding reach through delivery

Ever since the original ghost kitchen, delivery has played an important role in the brand’s success. During the COVID pandemic, it became a lifeline for the business. “During COVID, people couldn't leave the house,” says Cole. “Online orders really helped us out because everybody wanted to order the food online. They want to have the experience at home.”

She looked to DoorDash to fill an important need for the restaurant — to expand and serve more customers while maintaining the high quality and the key aspects of the brand.

“DoorDash was good because it fulfilled a real need for me. I wanted customers to be able to order the food online and have it delivered. And it was important that the quality lasts, making sure that the food is always warm. DoorDash helped me with that.” 

How DoorDash helped the brand scale

2X YOY growth 

in off-premise same-store sales after launching with DoorDash at all locations

23 point rise

in revenue growth YOY

“I think DashPass is pretty cool, especially if you're somebody who always orders online. You get to save money and you feel like you're part of a community.”

Building trust with employees and with customers

As Slutty Vegan grew, Cole learned some valuable lessons along the way. “When I first started Slutty Vegan, I was just working people hard,” she explains. “But I realized there is no possible way that you can build culture and teams without incentivizing the people around you.”

She began to invest more in her employees, discovering that she could rely on them more. Cole explains, “I raised the minimum wage. I provided life insurance for all of my employees. So when they come to work, it doesn't feel like a job. It feels like they're building an empire with me. They're not working for me. They are working with me.”

Pinky Cole

Scaling culture is the hardest thing that I've ever had to do in my life. Slutty Vegan is a very unique experience — the employees are dancing, it's high energy; it feels like an amusement park. How do you duplicate that from the Atlanta location to the Birmingham location to the Brooklyn location? By incentivizing employees.

Pinky Cole, Owner, Slutty Vegan

The Slutty Vegan culture has also worked to build customer loyalty. “Our customers are like family. If they see something wrong, they’ll say it. They protect the brand and protect the business. They really care about it. There’s something about the business that makes them fall in love with it. And that feels good.”

Fortune favors the bold

Undoubtedly, one reason for Slutty Vegan’s success might just be Cole’s fearlessness and her willingness to jump in and experiment. “When I started working on it – researching how to make a burger — sauces, seasoning. I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't know what I'm doing,” she laughs. “But it worked. And it worked well.” 

Cole is the first to admit that some days she feels like pinching herself. “I'm still in shock that it has been such a success,” she says. But she has poured her heart and soul into building the Slutty Vegan brand, creating something entirely new to bring her customers the benefits of plant-based foods.

If you’re a restaurant owner looking to scale your brand with delivery, consider a partnership with DoorDash.

Author

Diana Donovan

Diana Donovan

Copywriter

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