LISTEN: Pinky Cole has written a new book with the provocative title "I Hope You Fail." It's not nearly as mean as it sounds. GPB's Peter Biello speaks with the Slutty Vegan founder about it and other matters.

Slutty Vegan is an Atlanta-based chain of vegan restaurants, including this location on Atlanta's Edgewood Avenue.
Credit: Peter Biello

Pinky Cole is best known as the owner and founder of Slutty Vegan, a chain of vegan restaurants whose menu items feature mock shrimp, vegan cheese steaks and fries covered in a special blend of spices known as "Slut Dust." In her new book, the entrepreneur is sharing the lessons she has learned that helped her build a multimillion dollar empire. It's called I Hope You Fail. She's currently on tour for it. She spoke on All Things Considered with GPB's Peter Biello.


Pinky Cole: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Peter Biello: You did not set out in life wanting to be a restaurant owner, correct?

Pinky Cole: At all. I actually didn't know what I wanted to be, but I just knew that I wanted to be great in the world. And the vessel that happened to come through it was by way of hospitality. So here we are.

Peter Biello: So I imagined something as complicated as a restaurant. You're going to make mistakes, right?

Pinky Cole: A lot.

Peter Biello: So this whole book is about failure; so tell us a little bit about some of the failures that — that you, I guess, took in stride. I don't know. You tell me.

Pinky Cole: How much time do we have for this interview? I've been through a lot. My father did 22 years in prison. I had a restaurant that caught on fire. It was a grease fire. My car got repo'd, bad relationships. Got kicked out of my apartment, wages got garnished. I lost everything at one point in my life. But then I also gained everything at another point in my life. I've created a multimillion dollar business, became a wife, became a mother — even when doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to be a mom. So this book is really showing what can happen when you re-engineer what failure looks like. You know, society tells you that failure is always bad. But I truly believe that failure is the stepping stone, a foundation to be able to get the things that you really want and find out the lesson in the process. And that's why I created this book.

Peter Biello: So tell me about an early failure, something that you learned from and turned into a win later.

Pinky Cole: So losing all of my money. When I lost my restaurant, my wages got garnished and I had no idea that, you know, you had to get an accountant to close your sales and use tax account and all this stuff. I didn't know that. So I moved on with my life and I wake up and my account is depleted. There's $0 in my account.

Peter Biello: This is the fire at your restaurant. The first one in New York.

Pinky Cole: Yeah, but this was after the fire. So after I recovered, I'm, like, getting back. I'm thinking I'm doing well and fixing my credit. And then I wake up one day and my money is gone.

Peter Biello: Huh.

Pinky Cole: But I needed that to happen because guess what it taught me? It taught me that I needed to make sure that I had an accountant that was privy to the knowledge that I needed so that this wouldn't happen again, so that I would pay my bills on time to make sure that I closed out and finished business. Especially when a business doesn't work out. So when I created Slutty Vegan, I made sure that I had the proper accountant. I made sure that the bookkeeping was done properly. And last but not least, I made sure that my sales and use tax was always paid so that I would never have to deal with that situation again. But it took for that failure to happen, for me to gain the experience to know the difference.

Peter Biello: And what's the mindset that that requires as opposed to saying, "Well, I'm just not good enough to do something like this, to start a business"? What mindset would you say is required in a situation like that?

Pinky Cole: You got to have a pivoting mindset. You got to have a mindset to know that, like, troubling times don't last always. You know, when bad things happen for us, it really is happening for a reason, right? And it's not bad at all. So anytime I'm faced with a challenge, an obstacle, I'm like, okay, "Why is this happening for me?" It's happening for me to make me better, to make me stronger, to make me more relentless, to build my character. And then I become an expert and I can use my testimony to share with other people to help them build and be better.

Peter Biello: Where do you think that comes from for you? Were you born with that?

Pinky Cole: Not having a father in the household and watching my mother be an entrepreneur and work for somebody else all of my life and learning how to be independent at an early age. So it's like fight or flight. Like either you're going to sink or swim. And early on I really got those tools and it carried me throughout my whole life. And did I always get it right? Absolutely not. So through those failures, they were sometimes were like, I missed the mark, which is why I'm still a work in progress. But what I do understand is, is I've been through enough to know that you will get past this. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and as long as I had that mindset to re-engineer those bad things, I'm going to be all right.

Peter Biello: So how do you define success for readers of your book, I Hope You Fail? Is it strictly a business book or is there success in other terms here?

Pinky Cole: So this is not just a book about business, right? So I want to be very clear. This is not just for the entrepreneur. This is the person working the 9-to-5. This is the person trying to figure out how to get out the rat race. This is for the person trying to get out of a bad relationship. This book is universally sound for anybody who has ever experienced what society tells you a failure is. So some of the topics in the book: I hope he cheats on you.

Peter Biello: Oof!

Pinky Cole: I hope the people that love you don't believe in you. I hope you go flat broke. I hope your business burns down. Right? I'm sure that there are so many people that can relate to at least one of those things.

Peter Biello: Oh, sure, sure.

Pinky Cole: Yeah. And what it does is it really shows you that, like, life happens, it's inevitable, but it's how you show up to when life happens is what makes the difference.

Peter Biello: Do the extremes need to be the lesson?

Pinky Cole: Sometimes.

Peter Biello: Sometimes.

Pinky Cole: Sometimes they do. Right? And maybe it's not always so extreme, right? Like a failure could be something so small. And it depends on who's defining failure, right? We're just using failure as — as a catch phrase. Right? But failure is not failure at all. It's finding the aspiration in the losses. So no matter how big or small, you can really identify that "I can navigate through this and it doesn't feel good today, but it's going to feel better later."

Peter Biello: There're particular challenges for opening any business, no matter who you are. Are there particular challenges for opening a business as a Black woman?

Pinky Cole: If I was a blue woman, I would still have challenges, right? No matter, no matter the color of my skin. The challenge for me is scaling culture, right?

Peter Biello: Scaling culture.

Pinky Cole: Scaling culture. And what that means is when you go to a Slutty Vegan, there's a certain energy that you get when you walk through the door. So we're going to scream at you. We gonna call you a slut. The music is booming through the speakers and it's just an infectious environment. So my challenge now is having to duplicate that in Texas, in Dallas, in Birmingham and making sure that experience is the same. Because at the end of the day, people aren't just buying the product, they're tapping into the experience and as a result of the experience, they purchased the product. So that's kind of my biggest challenge right now. You know, everybody wants to scale a business, but when it's really time to scale a business, there's a lot of headache that comes with it. Would I have it any other way? Absolutely not. But it's definitely not easy. But I'm always up for a challenge.

Peter Biello: So I got to ask you about the previous cookbook that you put out. I'm not sure I can say the name on the radio. Maybe I can. Eat Plants, Bitch. We'll edit it out if we have to per FCC regulations. But I've tried a few the recipes; big fan of the "chickpea sunrise," big fan of the king oyster mushroom scallops which are not scallops. Is this sort of part of a series or is this going to be a one-off?

Pinky Cole: You know, a lot of people ask me that. They want me to create another cookbook. Maybe it might be like Eat Plants Again, Bitch, or something, I don't know. But, you know, it was really fun making that cookbook because I wanted people, meat eaters, especially, to understand that you can eat vegan and you don't have to be vegan, right? There's this misconception that if you're not vegan, then you're going to hell. And like, you know, like, I don't place judgment on people. My husband is not vegan and we get to coexist together even though we have different dietary lifestyles. So I wanted people to just feel good about eating good food, whether it was vegan or not. So who knows? Maybe.

Peter Biello: Who does the cooking at home? Are you exhausted by the time you get home and no more cooking for you?

Pinky Cole: Sometimes. My husband can cook better than me, but that's okay.

Peter Biello: Really? Okay.

Pinky Cole: He can. But you know, I do all the other things really well, so — balance.

Peter Biello: All right. All things in balance. I have to ask you about the lawsuits, because one was Download this pdf file.recently settled in New York, $10,000 paid to people who were Download this pdf file.claiming that they were not paid their bonuses . A Download this pdf file.lawsuit 's still pending from employees of Bar Vegan, your bar at Ponce City Market (in Atlanta). Discovery's still going on with that. Can you tell me a little bit about what happened at Bar Vegan?

Pinky Cole: So I can't talk too much about that, obviously, because there's some legalities behind it. But what I will say is that Pinky Cole and Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan, we only operate with the highest level of integrity and that starts from the top down. Do some certain things slip through the cracks in any business? Maybe, sometimes. But we're innocent until proven guilty in all things, and we move forward with best practices in everything that we do. And I make that my business because at the end of the day, my name means more to me than anything in the world. And, you know, that's what happens in business. There's going to be, as you — listen, as you become a disruptor, there will be disruption, whether guilty or not. And I've learned to embrace that level of disruption on the road to success. And I'm sure that there will be more to come. Like name me one business that hasn't gone through a legal battle. I'll wait. You understand what I'm saying? It's just that we're a high-profile business, so it's a sexy story to talk about. But the more they're talking, the more that we're growing and getting better. We just won the bid at the airport. So we only continue to rise to the top and continue to be a first-class business.

Peter Biello: I do want to ask you about the Hartsfield Jackson location. I'm sure travelers are interested in that. But to ask about — we're talking about failures, right? And lessons learned from failures. Not saying that this is a failure or not, but I'm curious about what your knowledge is of tipping policies at places like Bar Vegan. Do you know what the policy is? And is there 25% going to the house in tips?

Pinky Cole: So I won't speak on that because I haven't speak publicly on it per my attorneys. I did that once before and that wasn't the best thing to do because obviously I'm an emotional CEO. But what I will say is this: Best practices is how we operate, right? When it's all said and done, we'll see really what happened and we'll be okay.

Peter Biello: So tips all going to the servers at Bar Vegan now, or?

Pinky Cole: Bar Vegan. They are getting their money. They are getting their tips.

Peter Biello: Okay. Yeah. Not talking about the previous people, just currently.

Pinky Cole: Currently people are getting their money, people are getting their tips. There's not one employee that could ever say at Slutty Vegan or Bar Vegan that they've never gotten paid.

Peter Biello: And so I wanted to finish by asking about the Hartsfield Jackson location, because people are interested in that. As far as I know. No sense on when it's opening. When is it opening, do you know?

Pinky Cole: So we got to go through the construction phase. You know, airports take a long time, but hopefully next year. And I'm excited about that because when you think about businesses that were born and bred in Atlanta, this is an Atlanta love story, right? So we must be doing something right. So you can hear the negative, but there's also so much positive that comes with that. And I'm excited that we can continue to grow despite the noise, despite the negativity, and continue to be a multimillion dollar brand. This brand is valued at $100 million for a reason, right? So obviously we're doing something right. And I'm excited about the growth and the potential that Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan has, and I feel good about it. I'm in a really good place.

Peter Biello: Pinky Cole is the owner of Slutty Vegan and the author of the new book I Hope You Fail. She's currently touring for it. She'll be appearing in Atlanta today with a stop planned tomorrow in Savannah and later this week in Alabama, twice. You can find more information about her stops at