It’s graduation season in Atlanta, and Slutty Vegan founder Aisha “Pinky” Cole gave a rousing commencement address this weekend at her alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, that ended with the restaurateur gifting graduates with their own LLC (limited liability corporation).
Cole partnered with Varo Bank to present the 2022 graduating class of Clark Atlanta with LLCs to provide a boost toward creating a path to entrepreneurship and business ownership. During the speech, Cole continuously encouraged the graduates to never give up, even when they fail.
“Every single graduate in this audience will leave this stadium as a business owner,” Cole announced during the commencement address. “I didn’t have a plan, but I’m going to make sure that you do.”
Cole graduated from the historically Black research university in 2009 with a major in mass communication and media studies.
This isn’t the first time Cole has given back to the community. The success of Slutty Vegan allowed Cole to found the Pinky Cole Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering Black entrepreneurship. In 2020, she and partner Derrick Hayes (Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks) purchased a car for Tomika Miller, the widow of Rayshard Brooks. Brooks was shot and killed by former Atlanta police office Garrett Rolfe in a Wendy’s parking lot earlier that year. Cole then provided life insurance policies and scholarships for Brooks’ four children to Clark Atlanta University.
Cole first founded her vegan burger business as a delivery service in 2018. People placed orders on Instagram for provocatively named burgers like the One Night Stand and Ménage à Trois. The success of her online burger business eventually led to a food truck and late-night pop-ups in and around Atlanta University Center, home to Clark Atlanta University and Spelman and Morehouse colleges.
In 2019, Cole opened her first Slutty Vegan restaurant in the Westview neighborhood, followed by locations in Jonesboro, the Old Fourth Ward, Duluth, and just recently in Athens, Georgia. Locations are now planned for Brooklyn, New York, and in Birmingham. Cole also opened cocktail bar and restaurant Bar Vegan at trendy Ponce City Market in 2021.
The commencement gift to Clark Atlanta University graduates comes on the heels of a Forbes report that states Cole raised $25 million in Series A funding through Danny Meyer’s (Shake Shack) Enlightened Hospitality Investments and Richelieu Dennis’ New Voices Fund. The deal estimates the Slutty Vegan brand is valued at $100 million.
Cole plans to use the money to open at least 20 more Slutty Vegan locations over the next two years.