The woman behind one of Atlanta’s most popular eateries has just received an eight-figure influx of investments through a Series A funding round campaign. The business she started a few years ago is now valued at $100 million.
According to Forbes, entrepreneur Aisha “Pinky” Cole has raised $25 million to expand her Slutty Vegan brand. Venture capitalist Richelieu Dennis (New Voices Fund) and restaurateur Danny Meyer (Enlightened Hospitality Investments), two businessmen familiar with building companies from the ground up, have not only infused money into her dream but will lend their expertise as mentors to the company.
Dennis was born in Liberia and moved to the United States to go to college. He brought his love for his native culture into the beauty space, creating commercial products from ideals and recipes passed down from his grandmother. He co-founded Sundial Brands, the company behind mega-black hair and skin brands Nubian Heritage and Shea Moisture, with his mother Mary Dennis and Nyema Tubman — addressing a market previously ignored or not valued by the mass market. Now, the 53-year-old’s estimated worth is between $350 million and $400 million.
The other mogul investing in Cole’s dream is Danny Meyer, a St. Louis native and New York Times best-seller list author, who believes in taking what he has learned over the last 37 years in the food, hospitality, and restaurant business and passing it on to others through the concept of “Enlightened Hospitality.”
Listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 “Most Influential People” in 2015, his company boasts the fast-food brand Shake Shack as one of their biggest signature brands. Moreover, Meyer, Union Square Hospitality Group, and the diverse ventures under their portfolio bring “the hospitality dialogue” into multiple industries, including dining options in museums, sports arenas, and cultural institutions, as well as prescient investments in burgeoning neighborhoods, believing warmth, hospitality, and intentionality to improve lives.
“I got the Michael Jordan of food on my team,” Cole told Forbes about Meyer, adding that he “has proven that you can scale a business, and it can be unique.”
The two have become big fans of each other after their brands teamed up for a special collaboration called “Slutty Shack,” a one-time menu option in the Harlem Shake Shack restaurant in 2021. When Cole told him about the add-on, he asked incredulously, “What the hell is that?”
But Cole brought the Black girl magic that made her food the most talked about phenomenon in Atlanta with the campaign, and with that came lines that wrapped down and around the corner. Her new mentor, who is as impressed with her as she is with him, said, “I had never seen vegan food presented in such a fun way. Leaders are often defined by the degree to which people want to follow them, and I saw people following the leader.”
Dennis, on the other hand, knew Cole and her Slutty Vegan franchise was a force to be reckoned with. He was one of her thousands of customers, standing in line for hours to get a “Ménage à Trois,” “Fussy Hussy” or “Sloppy Toppy” vegan burger.
He said, “It’s that really, really great food that put Slutty Vegan on my radar.”
“They kept encouraging me. So, I went to see her. I’m in the line and I’m looking at the line. That’s what pulls me in,” Dennis confessed. “And, as they say, I was ‘Sluttified.’ I was hooked ever since.”
What also got him “hooked” was that the owner was a Black woman. Always aligned with the forward motion of women as bosses, his New Voices Fund has seen itself as a growth equity partner since it was formed in 2015. The mission of the organization is to “help Black women scale and grow their businesses.”
“It’s about partnering with these incredible entrepreneurs and their businesses to drive real scale and growth and create wealth for those founders and that’s what Pinky has done here and continues to do,” says Dennis. “This new round of investments will rapidly transform not just the vegan restaurant industry but will drive an incredible amount of health initiatives and food options for the Black community that may not have existed yet.”
Part of this scale for the Slutty Vegan is its plans for the future. More than just a vegan burger brand, Cole and her team have created tons of products like kettle chips, CBD gummies, Slutty Vegan dip, which comes in flavors like Bangin’ Hot-Lanta Chik’n and can be bought at retail stores like Target. It is also sold wholesale. A major grocery chain ordered 60,000 units of the condiment.
The Clark Atlanta University alumna has a cookbook deal (“Eat Plants, Bitch!”), a shoe deal, is giving back through her foundation, and is expanding the five landmark stores out of the Atlanta area and breaking into markets like Brooklyn and Baltimore. She plans to use the money invested in this round of funding to open 10 Slutty Vegan locations by the end of 2022 and an additional 10 in 2023.
Cole says her goal is “to build a billion-dollar brand,” and moving at this lightning pace — she opened 2018 and exploded during COVID — she is on her way.