Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan burger chain has closed a $25 million Series A funding round, led by New Voices Fund and restauranteur Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments. The funding will be used to open 10 new restaurants in 2022 with a further 10 expected to follow next year. Hiring chief operations and chief marketing officers are another priority.
Now valued at $100 million, Slutty Vegan currently has five locations in Atlanta, with plans to move into Brooklyn and Baltimore in the future. Founder Pinky Cole says her vision is to build the brand into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
The rise and rise of Slutty Vegan
Founded in 2018, Atlanta’s beloved vegan fast-food chain has grown, literally, from the ashes of Cole’s previous foray into the restaurant industry. Opening Pinky’s Jamaican and American eatery in 2014, a kitchen fire brought the dream to an abrupt end. It wasn’t until 2018 that Cole began formulating her Slutty Vegan plans.
Using a shared kitchen space for prep and social media for orders, word got out fast. What started as a few orders turned into hundreds, leading to the purchase of a food truck and eventually, brick and mortar restaurants, all with regular queues of happy customers.
Since Cole has attracted multiple product deals for Cole herself, as well as distribution for Slutty Vegan dips at various Atlanta grocery chains, with Costco placing a 60,000 unit order.
Putting Black businesses on the map
Black-owned businesses in the U.S. face many operational challenges, particularly when it comes to funding. Cole says she encountered extra difficulties due to being a Black woman launching her own startup.
It is estimated that just 4 percent of startups in the U.S. are founded by Black women, almost half of which (44 percent) use their own capital to launch. Financial data shows that businesses owned by Black women pull in far less than those run by women of other ethnicities.
Cole has set a revolution in motion, attracting influential investors along the way with her unapologetically individual approach to entrepreneurship and vegan food production.
Major players lending support to Slutty Vegan
Cole is excited about what her lead investors can bring to Slutty Vegan in terms of brand building and restaurant industry expertise. New Voices Fund was founded by Richelieu Dennis, a successful Black entrepreneur and philanthropist who co-founded Sundial Brands. Named as one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Creative People’, he brings a wealth of experience to Cole’s billion-dollar empire building plans.
In Danny Meyer, Cole has found a food sector and burger chain confidante. Creator of Shake Shack and more than one Michelin-starred restaurant, Cole refers to Meyer as the “Michael Jordan of food”. Meyer first encountered Slutty vegan when Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti worked with Cole to create a one-time pop-up called “SluttyShack” in Harlem last year. It is reported that Meyer wanted to get involved with the brand after witnessing both the food and Cole herself in action.
“I had never seen vegan food presented in such a fun way,” Meyer told Forbes. “Leaders are often defined by the degree to which people want to follow them, and I saw people following the leader.”
Black women taking the lead
Highlighting the successes of Black women is essential if more are going to disrupt the very white and male entrepreneurial landscape. Within the food sector, Cole is joined by a number of authentic individuals looking to bring heritage flavours and comfort food into the vegan sphere, for BIPOC community health and food equality.
Fellow vegan meat entrepreneur Deborah Torres stands as an example of what self-belief and a great product can achieve. Torres memorably turned down a Shark Tank offer to be bought out of her company, Atlas Monroe. Since, she has grown the brand into the world’s largest manufacturer of vegan fried chicken. Torres has also spoken out about the systemic racism and misogyny that she faced during her Shark Tank appearance.
All photos by Slutty Vegan unless otherwise credited.