By Chanda Temple
Slutty Vegan CEO and founder Pinky Cole, who will open her restaurant today in Woodlawn with a block party starting at 12 p.m. and 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 climb to building her a plant-based, $100 million food company that has five locations in Georgia and is set to open many more in America. During her talk, she offered tips people need to 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 make sure your books are clean in case you get audited, especially if finances are not your strength. Cole made the mistake of not having an accountant when she started her first business in New York several years ago, and she didn’t pay her sales and use tax. That mistake cost her two years after her first business burned in a fire; the government garnished her wages. But she said the mistake only made her a smarter entrepreneur. Hiring professionals will help you stay focused on the business.
“Sometimes, you have to go though the mud, you have to go through some speed bumps, and some tribulations and some bad stuff for you to realize that you need to make better choices.”
2. Hire an attorney.
You will need legal support as you run a business. Every single name in her business, even the burgers and her name, is trademarked. Hire an attorney on the front end so you won’t have to worry about it as you build your foundation.
3. Hire a publicist.
Her social media posts have a way of pulling people in because they make people laugh, they make people proud and they give people information. But when she’s not hyping her food online, she’s also telling stories of how the company gives back through scholarships and provide opportunities and resources for people. If you are 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 to you and buy what you have to offer.
“Philanthropy is the the real business,” she said. “It ain’t the product.”
4. Hire people who have the same hustle as you.
If you have people around you who are required to think smarter and think of impossible ideas to improve the business, that will only make you a better entrepreneur.
5. Know what it means to be a good leader.
In the last two years, Cole learned what it took to be a good leader. It takes collaboration and knowing what employees need. In order to have a business grow, employees need to love to be at work and help the customers to come back.
6. Offer an experience for your customer.
When people visit Slutty Vegan, they get an experience they cannot get any where else. The way employees make customers feel is intentional. But that starts with building a strong internal company culture so 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 will find mentors in different industries and at different ages, and it’s OK if they are not in your business specialty. Cole only has one mentor in the restaurant space. Having the right people who will check you on the things you are not doing right is important.
8. Don’t let small problems get to you.
Evolution in business is so key, Cole said. She used to panic if her register system went down. She no longer panics. If the register system fails, just tell people to bare with you. If you put out good energy, good energy will come back to you.
9. It’s OK to work a full-time job as you build your dream.
Cole was working as a casting director for “Iyanla, Fix My Life” on the OWN network when she worked on Slutty Vegan at night. She used the paychecks from her full-time job to help pay her employees when money was low, pay for the wraps on her food truck and pay for supplies. “Don’t hustle backwards,” she said. “Having a job while I was an entrepreneur was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. And I was able to pay employees to do the things 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 cannot wait to open in the Magic City, where she said it feels like the business is going to be big here.“It took two years to get here, but I am confident that this is going to be my highest grossing restaurant of all of 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 round table. She helped Cole close the deal on her building. Also at the table in helping connect Cole to Woodlawn was Mashonda Taylor, executive director of Woodlawn United.
All three women are members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., which shows the strength of the sisterhood, intentionality and collaboration.
“The sisterhood brought us together in all different spaces, but right here in Woodlawn, we made some magic happen,” Barnes said. “We love giving back. We are all about seeing our community thrive.”
Saturday’s meeting almost brought Dr. Brandi Rudolph Bolling to tears. Hearing Cole talk about her journey and taking even bigger steps in business was confirmation for Dr. Bolling to pursue things that are 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,” Dr. Bolling said. “This is just solidified it’s time to do it.”
Barnes said she plans to host more round tables like this in the future.
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