Published on Nov. 14 at 4:30 p.m.
by Sydney Palmer.
I don’t want to just “pick off the pepperoni.”
Those who are vegan understand the feeling of trying to find suitable meal options and being forced to settle with modifying a meal on their own, like picking the pepperoni off a pizza. The restaurants that don’t offer any vegan options may think it’s not worth the money to cater to these accommodations, but according to Ipsos Retail Performance, there are currently over 9.7 million American vegans. This is an large, mostly untapped market, as a mere .22% of the restaurants in the United States are vegan restaurants.
For those on a plant-based diet in the South, finding accommodating restaurants is even harder. The Deep South is well known for its food, which is mainly meat products; after all, “Southern comfort food” often includes dishes like chicken-fried steak, shrimp and grits, or pulled pork barbecue. Alexandra Walker-Jones wrote for EateCollective, “There exists a general consensus among the people that reside [in the South] that unless a food has been deep fried at the very minimum of two times, it’s probably not going to taste very good.” Luckily for the vegans in the South, there are a few restaurants starting to combine the typical Southern comfort food with a plant-based diet.
Pinky Cole, founder and owner of Slutty Vegan, wanted to create a place where people in the South could go when they are craving junk food but want to find a plant-based twist. Cole went to school in Atlanta, Georgia, and after spending time in Los Angeles, she was determined to reimagine the plant-based scene in her college town.
“It all started from a late-night craving for vegan food,” Cole explained. “We have amazing vegan restaurants in Atlanta, but in LA you can get vegan food on every corner, at any time of day.”
With a name like Slutty Vegan, one might think that it is simply catered to those who don’t eat meat products. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. “Most of our consumers are meat eaters. My core audience is meat eaters. I’m intentional about that. Vegans have already made the conscious decision not to eat meat, but the meat eaters are the people who I really want to speak to,” Cole said.
Hence the “burgers” that line the menu. Just by looking at the photos of the dishes, it is unbelievable that these burgers are actually made with plant-based patties.
“At Slutty Vegan, our food is more-so marketed to non-vegans,” said Cole. “The strategy of burgers changes the narrative of ‘vegan is boring’ or ‘stereotypical.’ We are showing that there is a brand new way of reimagining food. Vegan is fun! Vegan is sexy!”
With a priority public of meat eaters, Cole is able to spread more awareness on what vegan food actually is. There’s a stigma, especially in the South, that vegan food is just a salad or a pile of vegetables. With a plant-based menu full of enticing-looking burgers, chicken sandwiches, fried plantains and bratwursts, Cole is hopeful to convince anyone to try cutting meat out for at least one meal.
With seven locations across the country and one opening soon, Slutty Vegan is on a mission to bring enticing vegan food to as many cities as possible. “We want places that have dense populations with few vegan options because our menu items are meant to appeal to everyone,” said Cole. “In fact, the majority of our customers are meat eaters, and we love that because we want to open their minds to the vegan
Before opening a new location, Cole tests the community interest with the company’s food truck. “When our food truck visited Duluth, Georgia, for the first time, it was undeniable how excited people in the area were,” said Cole. “We had lines around the block and continue to receive the same warm welcome time and time again when our food truck, the Big ‘Ol Slut, serves food.”
Cole said she wants to open her restaurants in communities that would benefit from the concept. She mentioned that every restaurant she opens is intentionally located in a food desert, which is an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality, fresh food.
One reason why many are hesitant to try vegan food is that people think they have to eat a 100% plant-based diet. However, veganism is not an all-or-nothing concept. The simple act of cutting meat out of one meal is a great way to reduce meat intake, which in turn reduces the greenhouse gases, such as methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide, released by the meat industry. These gases contribute to climate change, such as global warming.
The Veganish Market, a vegan market in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is a restaurant that caters to all. “The idea behind Veganish was to not only create a menu that caters to the vegan community but also the vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians and those transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle,” said Yazmyn Rozier, Veganish Market’s founder and owner.
“We have one or two items for [the] meat eaters. So if [one of] your girlfriends doesn’t eat meat, and you do, y’all can all come here,” said Rozier. In this Southern college town, the amount of people with plant-based diets is smaller than those who eat meat, so offering options for anyone who walks in the door is the best way for Rozier to maximize her customer base, she said.
When it comes to marketing and PR for The Veganish Market, Rozier works hard to include all. “I don’t want to exclude anyone in the marketing, just because you never know who you will reach, right?” she said. Rozier focuses most of her outreach efforts on Instagram and word-of-mouth. She uses Instagram because it is one of the most popular social media platforms for college students, which is her primary public. The students who visit often share photos of their food or recommend the restaurant to a friend.
There is a new wave of veganism washing over the South, thanks to restaurants like The Veganish Market and The Slutty Vegan changing the narrative of what it means to be vegan. After visiting these restaurants and falling in love with both the food and the concept, people are much more willing to make that change in their own diet, which in turn makes a change in the entire industry.