At Chanda Temple
Slutty Vegan CEO and Founder Pinky Cole, who will be opening her restaurant in Woodlaw today at 12pm and cutting the ribbon at 1pm, says her company is more than just burgers, fries and pies. It is 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 a $100 million food company with five locations in Georgia. During her speech, she gave advice on what 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.
If you’re going to be audited, an accountant can help make sure your books are clean, especially if finance isn’t your forte. When Cole started her first business in New York several years ago, she made the mistake of not hiring an accountant, and she didn’t pay her sales and use taxes. That mistake cost her two years after her first business burned down; The government honored her salary. But she says the mistake made her a smarter entrepreneur. Hiring professionals helps you focus on the business.
Sometimes, you have to go through the mud, some speed bumps, and some hardships, and some bad things, to realize that you need to make better choices.
2. Hire a lawyer.
When running a business, you need legal support. Every name in her business, even her burgers and her name, is trademarked. Hire a lawyer up front so you don’t have to worry about it while building your foundation.
3. Hire a publicist.
Your posts on social media have a way of engaging people, making people laugh, making people proud, and informing people. But as she makes her living online, she appreciates how the company gives back with scholarships and gives people opportunities and resources. Let people know if you’re doing good in the neighborhood. When you share good news, people start talking, and when people start talking, they pay attention to you.
“Philanthropy is the real business,” she said. “It’s not the product.”
4. Hire people who have the same hustle as you.
If you have people around you to think smarter and think of impossible ideas to improve the business, that makes you a better entrepreneur.
5. Know what it means to be a good leader.
Over the past two years, Cole has learned what it takes to be a good leader. It requires collaboration and knowing what employees want. For a business to grow, employees must love being at work and help keep customers coming back.
6. Provide your customer experience.
When people visit Slutty Vegan, they get an experience they can’t get anywhere else. The way employees make customers feel is intentional. But this starts with building a strong internal company culture so that the external culture exists. Cole raised the minimum wage, offered incentives and more, which is a big deal for workers.
7. Find a mentor.
You’ll find mentors in different industries and different ages, and it’s okay if they’re not in your business. Kohl’s has only one consultant at the restaurant location. It’s important to have the right people checking in on the things you’re not doing right.
8. Don’t let small problems get to you.
Evolution is key in business, Cole said. She would be terrified if her registration system failed. You don’t panic anymore. If the registration system fails, just tell people to stay away from you. If you put out good energy, good energy will return to you.
9. It’s okay to work full-time when you’re building your dream.
While working on Slutty Vegan at night, Cole also worked as a casting director for “Iyanla, Fix My Life” on the OWN network. She uses her paychecks from her full-time job to pay her employees when her finances are low, pay for the wraps on her food truck, and pay for supplies. “Don’t rush back,” she said. “Getting a job as an entrepreneur was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I was able to pay workers to do things I couldn’t do while I was at work.
Although Cole bought the Woodlawn building on South 55th Place two years ago, she said the delay is not in denial. She can’t wait to open in the Magic City, where she feels the business will be big here. “It’s taken two years to get here, but I’m sure this will be the most profitable restaurant of all,” she said at 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 connect Cole with Woodlawn was Woodlawn United Executive Director Mashonda Taylor.
All three women belong to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. They are members, which shows the strength of sisterhood, intentionality and cooperation.
“Sisterhood has brought us together in all sorts of places, but here at Woodlawn we’ve made some magic happen,” Barnes said. “We love to give back. We all want to see our community prosper.”
Saturday’s meeting brought Dr. Brandy Rudolph Boling to tears. Hearing Cole talk about her journey and taking bigger steps in her business was confirmation for Dr. Bolling to keep track of the 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. Bolling. “It’s time to do it.”
Barnes said she plans to host similar roundtables in the future.