Pinky Cole Op-Ed: Taking My Secrets On Growing A Successful Restaurant To The Streets

By: Pinky Cole, founder and CEO of Slutty Vegan.

Five years ago, few people would have believed that what started as a food truck could turn into a successful brick-and-mortar restaurant empire. And almost no one would have believed that an all-vegan restaurant in West End would become one of the hottest in Atlanta. But this is my story — and it’s one that can help the next aspiring restaurant owner in Atlanta.

Building my brand, Slutty Vegan, into one of the fastest-growing in Atlanta has not been simple. My first attempt at opening a restaurant went up in flames when it was tragically wiped out by a grease fire, and my savings along with it. I didn’t know if I would get another chance — and then the Atlanta community welcomed me with open arms. 

I had the idea to bring an all-vegan restaurant serving up healthy junk food to Atlanta in 2018 — a longshot that required creativity, community, and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to rebuild again. But having a hustler’s mindset will only get you so far. Let’s be real: people in Atlanta love their barbeque. 

Thankfully, people can now discover new restaurants at the touch of a button, and for a brand like mine trying to break through with limited resources, there is nothing more valuable. Slutty Vegan took off thanks to the success we had in building an authentic, unique online presence and connecting with customers. As more and more people found our brand online, we soon had hundreds of people lined down the block for hours waiting to try our food.  

This discoverability is increasingly becoming the difference between success and failure, which is why building a digital brand is something all restaurant owners need to be taking seriously to get exposure, increase visibility, and grow their business. 

At the same time, there’s a lot that goes into running a restaurant beyond just filling orders that most people might not think about. Grueling days in the kitchen are often matched by even longer nights in the back office trying to make ends meet. And for those of us who learned the ropes of building a business in this industry by clicking around online instead of culinary school, it can seem nearly impossible. Convincing customers to try your restaurant — especially an all-vegan one at that — is just the first step; making sure you can provide a great customer experience is a whole different story.

In the face of these challenges, restaurant owners in Atlanta can turn to tech platforms to help them stay focused on their business. The key for any restaurant owner is to surround yourself with people who share the same hustle as you do and can think of impossible ideas to improve your business. When I opened my first food truck, platforms like DoorDash and Uber Eats were barely around, but I’ve seen how partnering with them can help fuel restaurant owners’ growth — even beyond just bringing meals to your door.

Starting a successful restaurant isn’t easy, but it can be a whole lot easier when you have a better understanding of what people want. Just like customers can find new favorites alongside old standbys with one click, restaurant owners can use data insights to learn more about their customers’ favorite menu items and figure out what’s hot and what’s not.  

These platforms can offer restaurants products and services — from financing support to educational resources and training programs — that help restaurants grow online, increase orders, and run the day-to-day operations more efficiently. While tech platforms aren’t perfect, they can help restaurant owners focus on what matters most: getting back to serving customers.  My advice to aspiring Atlanta restaurant owners is you don’t have to know everything, but you need to know what excites you about this industry, and figure out where you can delegate to the right people and technology on this journey. 

That’s why I’ve been thrilled to serve as the Chief Restaurant Advisor for DoorDash, which lets me hear from its community of merchants about what they need and how delivery platforms can better support them. Running a restaurant, even before the pandemic, has always been unpredictable. We need to make sure restaurant owners have the tools and resources they need to meet their customers needs. 

My journey as an aspiring Atlanta restaurant owner started in the streets from a shared kitchen. It’s been a full-circle journey working with small, neighborhood restaurant owners — just like me not long ago — as they look to me for guidance on what it takes to succeed in this new era for restaurants. 


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