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When Pinky Cole started Slutty Vegan in 2018 as a food truck in Atlanta, she never imagined that less than three years later, her plant-based burger joint would evolve into seven brick-and-mortar locations, partnerships with Shake Shack, and be able to thrive during a global pandemic. This is especially astonishing because Cole says her aim was only to get people to consider the benefits of integrating plant-based food into their diet.
“I pinch myself every day,” she tells ESSENCE. “I didn’t create this concept to make money. I created it to solve a problem and little did I know that this problem was really going to be able to change the world. And I know that might sound cliché, but when people come up to me and say that they’ve never had plant-based food and they never thought that they would even be open to trying it, but coming to Slutty Vegan gave them an opportunity to do that, it shows me that I’m really walking in my purpose. I’m walking in my mission.”
In her effort to help people see plant-based food differently, she’s entered the chicken wars — sort of. Cole and her popular brand have partnered with Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms, the long-running vegan and vegetarian brand, to bring chicken tenders to Slutty Vegan, as well as to your home. When she first tasted the tender, she knew she had to team up with the brand.
“This chicken tender tastes like meat, looks like meat, it feels like meat, it cooks like meat, and when I tasted it for the first time, it was a no-brainer,” she says. “I already knew it was going to be good because I grew up on MorningStar products, but it was really hard to get a good plant-based chicken tender. So when I tasted it, I’m like, okay, this is the real deal.”
At her Edgewood location in Atlanta, she added three items to the menu with the chicken tender meat, including a plant-based taco that features a mango salsa, a “Motherclucker” chicken slider with aioli sauce, and traditional “Sidechick” chicken tenders with buffalo sauce and ranch dressing.
For those not in Atlanta, the Incogmeato chicken tender is available nationwide for you to pick up at your local grocery store and make your own “Sidechick” meal. It’s an extra special treat for vegans like Cole.
Although I haven’t eaten chicken in a very long time, it makes me feel good to know that I can eat chicken again, and I don’t have to to feel guilty doing it,” she says. “I can just eat chicken, it’s plant-based, and it’s really good.”
But it’s also a delicious meal for meat eaters, too. She’s hopeful that with tasty chicken options available, equating to increased variety and visibility of plant-based bites, it will change the way people see vegan food.
“Plant-based can be fun, it can be easy. Many people think ‘I can’t go plant-based, I can’t go vegan because I don’t know what to eat.’ That’s a lie,” she says. “You can go to the store and find options, you can go to the produce aisle and find options. It’s not really hard. Even now more than ever, there’s so much innovation around plant-based food and pop culture made it cool. Slutty Vegan made it cool. Beyoncé made it cool. There’s so many avenues to go when it comes to plant-based living that you don’t have to limit yourself and you don’t have to go vegan if you don’t want to. Our mission is not to sell people that if you don’t go vegan then you’re going to die. I don’t do that. I don’t push my agenda on anybody. I just want to show people that there are more options. As long as I can do that through television and cookbooks to opening new restaurants, to doing an amazing partnership like the one I’m doing now, then I know that I’m doing something right in the kitchen.”