From the Chanda Temple
Slutty Vegan CEO and founder Pinky Cole, who will open her restaurant today in Woodlawn with a block party starting at noon and a ribbon cutting at 1 p.m., said her company is more than just burgers, fries and pies. It’s also an ecosystem focused on people, purpose and philanthropy.
On Saturday, she met with several Black Birmingham small business leaders to discuss her ascent in building a $100 million plant-based food company that has five locations in Georgia and will open many more in America. During her talk, she offered advice that people should know when starting a business. Some of them include:
1. Hire an accountant, even if you don’t have a lot of money in the bank.
An accountant will help you make sure your books are clean in case you’re audited, especially if finance isn’t your forte. Cole made the mistake of not having an accountant when she started her first business in New York a few years ago, and she didn’t pay sales and use tax. This mistake cost her two years after her first business burned down; the government has garnished her wages. But she said the mistake only made her a smarter entrepreneur. Hiring professionals will help you stay focused on business.
“Sometimes, you have to go through the mud, you have to go through some speed bumps, and some hardships and some bad things to realize that you have to make better choices.”
2. Hire a lawyer.
You will need legal support while running a business. Every single name in her business, even the burgers and her name, are trademarked. Hire an attorney on the front end so you don’t have to worry about this while building your foundation.
3. Hire a publicist.
Her social media posts have a way of pulling people in because they make people laugh, make people proud and give people information. But when she’s not promoting her food online, she’s also telling stories about how the company gives back through scholarships and provides opportunities and resources for people. If you’re doing good in a neighborhood, let people know. When you share good news, people start talking, and when people start talking, they will pay attention and buy what you have to offer.
“Philanthropy is the real business,” she said. “It’s not the product.”
4. Hire people who have the same hustle as you.
Having people around you who are asked to think smarter and come up with impossible ideas to improve the business will only make you a better entrepreneur.
5. Know what it means to be a good leader.
In the past two years, Cole learned what it takes to be a good leader. It takes cooperation and knowing what employees need. In order for a business to grow, employees must want to be at work and help keep customers coming back.
6. Provide an experience for your customer.
When people visit Slutty Vegan, they get an experience they can’t get anywhere else. The way employees make customers feel is intentional. But that starts with building a strong internal company culture so that the external culture can exist. Cole raised the minimum wage, she offered incentives and more, which is a big deal for employees.
7. Get a mentor.
You’ll find mentors in different industries and at different ages, and it’s okay if they’re not in your business specialty. Cole only has one mentor in the restaurant space. It’s important to have the right people to check on you for things you’re not doing right.
8. Don’t let small problems get you down.
Evolution in business is so key, Cole said. She panicked if her registry system was going to crash. She no longer panics. If the registry system fails, just tell people to be with you. If you put out good energy, good energy will come back to you.
9. It’s okay to work full time while building your dream.
Cole was working as a casting director for “Iyanla, Fix My Life” on the OWN network when she worked at Slutty Vegan at night. She used her paychecks from her full-time job to help pay her employees when money was tight, pay for wraps on her food truck, and pay for supplies. “Don’t rush back,” she said. “Having a job while being an entrepreneur was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. And I was able to pay employees to do things that I couldn’t do while I was at work.”
Cole said that even though she bought the Woodlawn building on 55th Place South two years ago, a delay is not a denial. She’s looking forward to opening in the Magic City, where she said she feels like business will be great here. “It took two years to get here, but I’m confident this will be my most profitable restaurant of all. from my Slutty Vegans,” she said during a Saturday morning meeting with some of Birmingham’s black small business owners.
Abra Barnes, owner of Barnes & Associates, hosted Saturday’s business roundtable. She helped Cole close the deal on her building. Also at the table to help connect Cole with Woodlawn was Mashonda Taylor, executive director of Woodlawn United.
All three women are members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., which exemplifies the strength of sisterhood, purposefulness and cooperation.
“Sisterhood brought us together in all different spaces, but right here at Woodlawn, we made magic happen,” Barnes said. “We like to give back. We are all about seeing our community thrive.”
Saturday’s meeting almost brought Dr. to tears. Brandy Rudolph Bolling. Hearing Cole talk about her journey and taking even bigger steps in business was confirmation for Dr. Bolling to follow up on things on her list.
“The last time I felt this way was when my company was born in May 2020. And I have that feeling again, like something big is on the horizon,” said Dr. Bowling. “It’s just solidified, it’s time to do it.”
Barnes said she plans to host more roundtables like this one in the future.