Atlanta’s favorite plant-based stop Slutty Vegan is growing into a vegan food empire, and this week, the fast-food giant became one of the initial recipients of The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program. The campaign led by The PepsiCo Foundation and the National Urban League aims to support Black restauranteurs impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will distribute $10 million dollars to invigorate Black-owned businesses, ranging across 12 cities. The money will be divided amongst 500 Black restaurant owners over the next five years as the country begins to reopen following the nationwide shutdowns.

“As the pandemic exposed existing disparities many minority business owners face, we saw a fundamental threat that could erase the decades of progress Black-owned restaurants have made,” Vice President and Global Head of Philanthropy at the PepsiCo Foundation C.D. Glin said. “The investment will help Black restauranteurs not only recover from the pandemic but set them on ta path to long-term economic resilience. We are inspired by the progress we are making through our collaboration with the National Urban League to address a fundamental gap and create opportunities for Black-business owners to build generational wealth and continue to strengthen their communities.”

Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole first launched her business in 2018 as a food truck. The vegan food truck made its name selling burgers such as the One Night Stand and the Fussy Hussy, using Impossible patties and Cole’s signature sauce. Her instant success allowed her to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in January 2019. Since then, Cole opened two more locations and operates a spin-off named Bar Vegan, serving vegan drinks and meatless Philly cheesesteaks.

Even though Cole’s vegan empire is growing, it experiences the same financial hardship as many businesses during the pandemic. A report from Stanford University’s Institute For Economic Policy Research found that Black business owners felt the trials of the pandemic more intensely than white-owned businesses. Since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, 41 percent of Black-owned restaurants have closed, compared to only 17 percent of white-owned restaurants. This difference inspired the PepsiCo Foundation and National Urban League to help these businesses directly, providing both money and management training.

“Black businesses and consumers are among the key contributors to the economic strength of our nation, and they deserve equal recognition and support for the vital role they play in our communities,” President and CEO of the National Urban League Marc Morial said. “We are proud to partner with The PepsiCo Foundation on a matter of crucial importance that helps business owners and addresses one of the critical economic disparities impacting Black communities.”

Cole’s notability extends far beyond her vegan restaurant, constantly giving back to Black communities across Atlanta. The restauranteur's nonprofit, The Pinky Cole Foundation, promotes and funds several social justice initiatives that attempt to help Black economic progress. The owner also raised money to pay for 30 Clark Atlanta Univesity students’ tuition.

The Slutty Vegan empire will soon grow outside of Georgia with Cole planning to open a store in Birmingham, AL later this year. Alongside her own growing popularity, the PepsiCo donation will allow for Cole’s vegan chain to establish itself across the South.

“Slutty Vegan will be the new fast-casual restaurant," she said. "I think people will be happy about it because it offers different types of options and more people will want to go plant-based. That part feels really good to me."

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