Shake Shack Founder Feeds Slutty Vegan $25 MM in Funding To Fuel Expansion

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Pinky Cole, founder and CEO behind the wildly popular Slutty Vegan ATL, Bar Vegan, and The Pinky Cole Foundation, raised $25 million at a $100 million valuation in a Series A funding round, the mother, entrepreneur, and restaurateur confirmed in a telephone interview with What Now Atlanta Wednesday.

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Cole will remain a majority owner, with funding backed by Enlightened Hospitality Investments, co-founded by Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group (founder of Shake Shack), and New Voices Fund, led by billionaire entrepreneur and ESSENCE Ventures CEO Richelieu Dennis. Acclaimed NYC-based restaurateur Danny Meyer took notice of Slutty Vegan last year following a successful collaboration with Shake Shack for a limited-time “SluttyShack” burger, according to a press release.

Enlightened Hospitality Investments, a growth equity firm associated with Union Square Hospitality and co-founded by Meyer, is known for fueling growth in people-driven companies with aligned core values. Slutty Vegan also received funds from entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis’ New Voices Fund, which provides monetary resources for existing and aspiring women of color entrepreneurs.

“Authenticity, realness, and bringing people together. That’s the secret to our success,” Cole told What Now Atlanta. “I’ve got some heavy hitters on my team and as long as I’ve got heavy hitters on my team, how can I lose? I can’t lose.”

Cole said that she’s looking for two more heavy hitters to join the executive team at her company ahead of expanding the Slutty Vegan brand with the recent funding round — a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer. “‘We’re valued at $100 MM with this round of funding, but I’m not stopping until we’re worth a billion,” Cole said.

Plans call for at least 10 additional locations, Cole said, without spoiling the “surprise” of when and where those restaurants will open. Speaking of surprises, Cole said the students graduating Saturday from Clark Atlanta University — Cole’s alma mater — are in for one. Cole, who is set to deliver the university’s 2022 commencement speech and will be the youngest person to do so, would not share details of the surprise but said more information is forthcoming.

“Dedicated to reinventing vegan food culture, Cole’s Slutty Vegan brand of crave-worthy, plant-based comfort food has drawn national attention for its now-famous lines down the block for mouth-watering vegan burgers and indulgent snacks — and the brand has not slowed down since opening,” according to the release. Within the first six months of its grand opening in 2018, revenues grew to $4 million as Cole wow-ed meat-eaters and vegans alike with her creative takes on plant-based creations (all donning racy names) like the One Night Standa loaded with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun and the Heaux Boy featuring vegan shrimp tossed in a New Orleans style batter, loaded with lettuce, tomato, pickle and Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun.

Slutty Vegan has four brick-and-mortar locations in metro Atlanta including outposts in the Edgewood, Jonesboro, Duluth and West View neighborhoods. Additional stores have been announced for Athens, Georgia (set to open on May 15, 2022), Brooklyn and Birmingham. The concept also utilizes its food truck, affectionately named the “Big Ol’ Slut,” for pop-ups in neighborhoods across metro Atlanta and in cities across the country to share its famous burgers and fries with fans near and far.

In May 2019, Cole established The Pinky Cole Foundation with a mission to empower generations of color to win financially in life and in the pursuit of their entrepreneurial dreams while building generational wealth in the Black community. Using grassroots and hyperlocal efforts to empower young people of color to leverage economic opportunities, successful risk-taking and innovation, the organization’s entrepreneurship and financial literacy-focused education initiatives specifically target teens and young adults ages 13 to 22 in the U.S.

In partnership with other philanthropists, Cole has paid rent for struggling local businesses, paid the tuition of 30 Clark Atlanta University students, purchased a car and life insurance for the family of Rayshard Brooks who was murdered by a police officer in spring 2020 and more. Last year, Cole teamed up with Derrick Hayes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks to spearhead the Square 1: The Liife Experience, a program with an initiative to provide life insurance policies by December 2023 to 25,000 Black men to support their health and generate generational wealth in the black community.

Also in 2021, Slutty Vegan’s team debuted Bar Vegan in the Central Food Hall at Ponce City Market. The latest concept from Pinky serves a vegan food menu paired with beer, wine and experience cocktails made tableside.

In addition to her restaurants and entrepreneurial efforts, Cole recently announced the release of her first cookbook, Eat Plants, B*tch, that is now available for pre-order and is slated to hit shelves November 2022. It will feature 91 vegan recipes including breakfast creations, dinner items and Cole’s signature southern comfort food, plus a selection of tips and tricks for vegan cooking, plant-based substitutes and complementary dips, jam, jellies and gravy to enhance the recipes. See here for a full list of retailers.

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