How Slutty Vegan Puts the Party in Plant
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How Slutty Vegan Puts the Party in Plant

Dec 01, 2023

By Charles Bethea

On a recent Saturday evening at the flagship branch of Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta-based burger chain, a hulking former strip-club bouncer was working the door, under a bright sign that read "EAT PLANTS YA SLUT." A dozen people were queued up outside. Another employee, wearing a T-shirt with the restaurant's name in the style of Run DMC's logo, shouted through a microphone as each customer stepped forward, "It's Slutty Saturday!" If the person was a first-time patron, and admitted it, the employee added, "Virgin slut!"

Inside, a d.j. positioned near a rack of merch was playing Drake and Aaliyah at discothèque decibel levels. Three white guys in their late twenties—virgin sluts, all of them—peered up at the menu placard, which included such burgers as the Fussy Hussy (vegan cheese, caramelized onions; $13), the Super Slut (guacamole, jalapeños; $15), and the Ménage à Trois (vegan bacon, vegan shrimp; $19). All were made with plant-based patties from Impossible Foods and doused with a spicy orange "slut sauce."

"We love meat," one of the guys said. "We were debating going to a barbecue, but he"—he gestured at his friend—"really wanted to be called a slut today."

In recent years, proponents of plant-based eating have gone to creative lengths to counter veganism's reputation as preachy and abstemious. Michelin-starred restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, in New York, have tried to sell customers on the idea that even all-veggie tasting menus can be worth the price of a month's rent. At the other end of the scale, substitute-meat brands have made inroads into the fast-food industry: there are now Impossible Whoppers at Burger King and Beyond Meat sausage links in supermarket freezer aisles. But perhaps no establishment has done as much as Slutty Vegan to challenge the perception that a vegan diet is by and for pleasureless people.

The company's founder and C.E.O., Pinky Cole, is thirty-five years old, with waist-length pink ombré dreadlocks. She wears a necklace with the word "vegan" and a marijuana leaf encrusted in diamonds. Her entrepreneurial streak dates back to her youth in Baltimore, when she and a high-school friend would buy McChickens for a dollar and sell them to their classmates for two. Cole estimates that three-quarters of Slutty Vegan's customers are meat-eaters. "We like it that way," she told me recently. "It's not a vegan concept where we’re this glorified group that's better than everybody else." Though plant-based, a Slutty Vegan burger is not exactly health food. Cole declined to share nutritional information with me, but said, "I won't sit here and tell you to eat Slutty Vegan every single day, all day. But I do want you to understand that veganism can be healthier, even if it starts with burgers and fries."

Slutty Vegan's inclusive party atmosphere proved highly effective from the outset. After the flagship launched, near my home, in downtown Atlanta, in 2020, I noticed customers arriving hours before the doors opened to wait in line in lawn chairs. The restaurant is situated in a gentrifying section of the city's Old Fourth Ward, a historically Black area, just a block from the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. There had been other recent additions to the dining scene: Staplehouse, which was just up the road, had been named Bon Appétit's Best New Restaurant in America in 2016. But Slutty Vegan became the area's most hyped destination, amplified by local celebrities such as Usher and Shaquille O’Neal—an investor in Beyond Meat—who posted videos on social media documenting their experience getting "sluttified." As it happened, I was trying to quit eating factory-farmed meat. When I first went to Slutty Vegan, and finally made it to the front of the line, I discovered that a "shrimp" dish called the Side Heaux came close to supplying the cheap dopamine hit of my old lunchtime crutch, a fried-chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A. Like most people, though, I went back in equal parts for the vegan food and for the vibes.

According to one recent study, more than a quarter of Americans would choose meat substitutes if they were as cheap and as tasty as the real thing. In reality, though, even the leading products remain more expensive than conventional meat—which is kept cheap by government subsidies—and are not quite as delicious. Since a surge in sales several years ago, the plant-based-proteins business has stagnated. Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are laying off employees. Last August, McDonald's pulled its McPlant sandwich from the menu after a trial run. Slutty Vegan, meanwhile, has continued to expand, despite the fact that its burgers cost several times more than a traditional fast-food sandwich. There are now seven locations in Georgia, including a new one in Truist Park, where the Atlanta Braves play, plus one in Birmingham, Alabama, and three in New York City—two brick and mortar and one so-called cloud kitchen, offering delivery only. In early 2022, the New Voices Fund, co-founded by the entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, and Enlightened Hospitality Investments, run by the restaurateur Danny Meyer, bought a combined twenty-five-per-cent ownership stake, bringing Slutty Vegan's valuation to a hundred million dollars. Meyer, who founded the Shake Shack burger chain, told me, "It's this very unusual juxtaposition of veganism, which is often connected to what I’m not allowed to eat, with sluttiness, which is all the things that I’m gonna do even though I’m not allowed to."

Cole is using the investment to open a number of new Slutty Vegan locations before the end of the year, including the first drive-through, in Columbus, Georgia. Last September, an outpost was launched in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood with a block party that drew crowds beginning at 8 A.M., even if, according to the New York Post, not all parents were thrilled with the restaurant's choice of name. ("It's very offensive. Mommy doesn't like it, and you should never say it," one woman explained to her seven-year-old son.)

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On Slutty Saturday at the Atlanta flagship, the three guys took their burgers over to a counter and carefully unwrapped them. One munched approvingly on a crinkle-cut fry coated in proprietary "slut dust," then took a bite of his Fussy Hussy.

"Better than McDonald's," he said.

"Better than American McDonald's," the second guy countered, adding that European McDonald's and Slutty Vegan might be neck and neck.

The third guy was still contemplating his Ménage à Trois. He’d never eaten a vegan burger of any kind. "You know how in video games you start with a generic character with no experience and no upgrades?" he said. "That's what this is for me."

"I got my entrepreneurial hustle from my dad, the most brilliant man I’ve ever known," Cole told me one Thursday in February, as we sat eating hot "chicken" sandwiches and drinking mojitos at Bar Vegan, a small-plates Slutty Vegan spinoff in Atlanta's Ponce City Market, a converted Sears building that's now home to dozens of high-end venders. The day Cole was born, her father, Stanley, a Jamaican immigrant, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for his role as the leader of what prosecutors described as a "large-scale cocaine distribution ring," whose proceeds he laundered through fronts including a Baltimore night club called Exodus. "He did what he had to do to provide for his family," Cole said. After his imprisonment, she and her four siblings were raised by her mother, Ichelle, also from Jamaica, who worked in a bank and as a McDonald's cashier to support the family on her own. She also sang in Strykers Posse, an all-female reggae cover band, and wore dreadlocks that hung to the ground. "People always wanted her picture—I wanted to be like that when I grew up," Cole said.

Before she was old enough to drive, Cole was running logistics for a Baltimore party-promoting crew. To secure leases on venues, she’d dress in pants suits and act the part of an older woman. Charles Smith, who helped start the crew and now makes music under the name DJ Blaqstarr, told me, of the routine, "It was like some Tyler Perry stuff." They handed out flyers at schools and malls and were soon drawing a thousand kids to parties in downtown warehouses at ten bucks a head. Smith recalled that the fire marshal showed up repeatedly, and that at one party the organizers were robbed at gunpoint, but that Cole had a dogged show-must-go-on attitude. In her junior year, she got kicked out of school after a dispute with another girl over the title of prom queen—"I was the aggressor," she told me—but persuaded the superintendent to let her transfer to the city's best all-girls public school. From there, she matriculated at a historically black university, Clark Atlanta ("basically because I saw Ludacris there on MTV," she said), where she joined an élite sorority and became the campus beauty-pageant queen. Crystal Kelly, a classmate and a close friend, told me, "I’d never known someone with so much belief in herself."

Cole graduated in 2009, with a degree in communications, and, after a false start with Teach for America, moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actress. "I had two hundred and fifty dollars, a suitcase, and a Bible," Cole said. ("I don't read the Bible," she added. "It was just for, like, symbolic protection.") She took acting classes and spent a few months as an extra on "Glee," but the gig paid poorly, and a former sorority sister encouraged her to take a job in production. Cole spent the next few years working on tabloidy talk shows, including Maury Povitch's, which, she said, "showed me that Black people ain't the only people that got problems." By the age of twenty-four, she was making six figures. But the work didn't satisfy her enterprising side. In 2014, a Jamaican friend in Harlem, who ran a restaurant, mentioned that a storefront around the corner was for rent. Cole had no background in food service, but she had money saved and her boyfriend at the time was handy enough to help build the space out. She told me, "It just made sense."

When Cole was growing up, Ichelle followed a vegetarian Ital diet, according to Rastafarian tradition: stews of red beans and okra in coconut milk; brown rice with steamed rhubarb, collards, or callaloo. But Ichelle's mother, who lived with them, made dishes like oxtail, pressure-cooked until the meat was sticky and tender. Cole's restaurant, Pinky's Jamaican and American, served that dish and other Caribbean staples—beef patties, ackees, steaming crab legs. Cole hadn't yet arrived at the flamboyant style that would define Slutty Vegan, but she painted the restaurant's exterior the color of bubble gum, and the Pinky's Web site boasted, "The best damn jerk in Harlem!" She told me, "I didn't have a publicist, and I didn't get reviewed, but I still had lines." A year later, she opened a juice bar, also called Pinky's.

Since college, Cole had experimented with eliminating meat from her diet, and now she went fully plant-based. She looked at veganism as a personal test. "I’m the one who wants to get to my highest level of achievement," she told me, adding that even now she sometimes takes a "raw vegan challenge," a trend of temporarily forgoing cooked food, which she tapped into on YouTube. "I’m a master faster," she said. "I’m always elevating."

In the summer of 2016, a grease fire destroyed the Pinky's restaurant. Cole had no fire insurance, and she’d put most of her savings into the business. Her car was repossessed, and she was evicted from her apartment. She started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for a reopening, but soon gave up the idea. Around the same time, her boyfriend was arrested for killing someone in a fight. (He was convicted of manslaughter and remains incarcerated.) "It was the low point of my life," Cole told me.

She returned to L.A. and to TV work, as a supervising producer on "Iyanla: Fix My Life," a talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network hosted by the inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant. "It was almost like going to therapy, and I didn't have to pay for it," Cole said. She started running five miles a day and reading self-help books with titles such as "Think and Grow Rich." Kelly, her college friend, told me that Cole often bounced around new business ideas, not all of them sterling. ("I recall a weave-cleaning concept," she said, laughing.) But Cole's embrace of veganism provided new fodder. Her older brother Jaware, an early employee of Slutty Vegan, recalls her bemoaning the lack of vegan food options late at night, "after leaving the club." In 2018, Cole went back to Atlanta to take a short-term role on a TV show. One evening, lying in bed in a rental apartment downtown, she became lost in thought. "Honestly, I’d hit the blunt," she told me. "And I’m not even a smoker! But I was high. It was a good high." She called Kelly to float the name for a new restaurant concept. They considered a few—including Vixen Vegan—but Kelly approved of Cole's first choice. "I was, like, Slutty Vegan, hands down—that's the one," Kelly recalled. "Sex sells."

One recent weekday afternoon, Cole was at the Whittley Agency, a Black-owned business-management and consulting firm in Atlanta, sitting at a long conference table beneath a "Black Panther" movie poster. She wore a skin-tight black dress and Chanel sneakers and had her hair (maintained, she said, with the help of a "hair-style architect") in a cascading topknot. She held up her phone to inspect Slutty Vegan's Instagram account, which has the advantage of being the app's first result for "slutty." The account has five hundred and eighty-four thousand followers. "We’ll have a million by the end of the year," she told me.

A young Black man walked into the room, wearing tortoiseshell sunglasses and an Atlanta Hawks ball cap. He was a representative from Lululemon, the athleisure brand. Cole had called the meeting to discuss a potential partnership. After some introductions, she launched into a pitch.

"Slutty Vegan is not just a restaurant," she said, and mentioned a recent team-up with the footwear designer Steve Madden to create a limited-edition vegan-leather sneaker. "Sold out in forty-eight hours," she said, leaning toward the rep. "We did a partnership with Shake Shack: sold out in an hour. People look at us as a life-style brand."

Dora Whittley, the founder of the consulting agency, sat beside Cole, wearing dangly earrings and a black turtleneck with puffed shoulders. The group discussed the idea of Slutty Vegan and Lululemon working together on body-positivity campaigns, on philanthropic initiatives, and on a documentary series about bootstrap entrepreneurs which Cole, on the spot, dubbed "Lulu Lemonade."

"We call her ‘Pinky Is the Brain,’ " Whittley said. "Because literally anything you give to her, her mind goes to creative ideation. It's almost automated."

There was a TV at one end of the room, and Whittley pressed Play on a sizzle reel for a new project that Cole was developing, tentatively called "American Sesh," in which celebrities, entrepreneurs, and "creatives" are given "thirty seconds to come up with a company that can scale to a billion-dollar business." Cole mentioned that she’d arranged a meeting about it with Mark Burnett, the producer of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice." ("Pinky clearly has her finger firmly on the pulse of what's next in business," Burnett told me.)

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"Do y’all do, like, what Stephen Curry is to Under Armour?" she asked the rep.

"We call those global ambassadors," he said.

"Let's include me on that potential list, then," Cole said.

"One hundred per cent," the rep said. "You’d fit as a city ambassador, and then elevate into a global ambassador eventually."

"I’m already global—the world just don't see me yet," Cole said, adding, "I am going to be bigger than Oprah." Both Whittley and the rep nodded solemnly.

When the meeting ended, Cole and Whittley dialled in two managers and two publicists for an "all things Pinky Cole" briefing. They discussed an Essence cover shoot, a branded CBD "slutty gummy," and ways to drum up more good press for Bar Vegan. (The month before, a former Bar Vegan employee had filed a wage-theft lawsuit against Cole and her business partners; Cole responded that she was not involved in the restaurant's day-to-day operations, adding, "I was not familiar with this ordeal.") Cole had pitched a collaboration with Ben & Jerry's on a Slutty Vegan-themed flavor called One Night Stand—like the company's burger of the same name, it would feature faux bacon—and had booked an appearance on "Good Morning America" to discuss her cookbook, "Eat Plants, B*tch," which includes sections such as "Da Butter, Da Dips, Da Jams, and Da Jellies." The grand opening of a Slutty Vegan outpost in Harlem was also approaching, and Cole wanted it to be a surprise to the public. "Similar to the Beyoncé album she suddenly dropped: the whole Internet in a frenzy," she said, adding, "Hopefully, I can get Al Sharpton to stand beside me. Jesse Jackson DM’d me the other day." (In the end, the opening, in March, was a more subdued affair—the weather was lousy, Sharpton was nowhere to be found—but Cole described returning to Harlem, just down the street from the former Pinky's spot, as a "full-circle moment.")

A few minutes later, Cole's phone pinged, and she tapped at it with long gold nails. It was a message from an employee saying that the N.B.A. player Chris Paul—a noted vegan and a Slutty Vegan investor—was in town. Just like that, Cole was back to running orders. "He wants some food tonight," she said.

Cole started selling Slutty Vegan burgers out of a commercial-kitchen space in an Atlanta suburb in August of 2018. The kitchen's procurement manager suggested that she try using plant-based patties from Impossible, which weren't yet widely available in stores. A chef she found on Instagram flunked a tryout, so Cole devised the dishes herself. "Food needs personality," she told me. When I asked her for insights about her recipe development, she instead shared the thinking behind the dishes’ names: One Night Stand, because "everyone wants a taboo experience"; Sloppy Toppy, because "we’ve all given some sloppy toppy." Jaware mixed Cole's first batches of slut sauce and slut dust—the secret ingredient, he said, was "love"—and they began offering delivery through apps such as Uber Eats. Cierra Sanders, a friend of Cole's since high school, recalled, "After the first day, she called me and said she literally sold a single burger."

Word soon spread after a friend with a vegan-ice-cream shop plugged Slutty Vegan to her twenty-five thousand Instagram followers. A month into the experiment, Cole bought an old food truck, which she’d drive from spot to spot in the city, teasing her whereabouts online. She hired Ludacris's manager, Chaka Zulu, who’d also attended Clark Atlanta, and with his counsel got various rappers to endorse her food. In January, 2019, Cole posted a video on Slutty Vegan's Instagram showing Snoop Dogg standing in front of the truck, saying, "You got a lot to be slutty fo’." (Cole told me, "He only got the fries.") From there, demand exploded. "I felt like a drug dealer," Cole said. "We had, like, trash bags of money, because we only took cash." Jaware, who was in charge of collecting the proceeds, told me that he carried two pistols for protection. "I had more than twenty thousand almost every night, in my pocket, just bulging out," he said.

On Super Bowl Sunday this past February, which was also Jaware's thirty-ninth birthday, I attended a party at Cole's home in a gated "country-club community" outside of the city, where she lives with her fiancé, Derrick Hayes, and their two young children. The house is one of more than twenty properties that Cole owns, including most of her restaurant locations. ("I’ve got a real-estate addiction," she told me. "It's like tattoos.") Hayes, a thirty-five-year-old Philadelphia native with blond-tipped hair, had flown a group of friends and family members in from Philly to watch the Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs.

He was standing near a new eighty-five-inch television in the living room, wearing a throwback Randall Cunningham Eagles jersey. Hayes is the proprietor of Big Dave's Cheesesteaks, another successful Atlanta business, specializing in "world-renowned" Philadelphia-style beef sandwiches. A few years ago, Cole's friends suggested that she meet him. "They was, like, ‘This guy selling cheesesteaks. He's got lines down the block. Y’all would be a power couple.’ I’m, like, ‘I’m not dating nobody that's not vegan.’ I was adamant. I wasn't even gonna kiss him." During the racial-justice protests in the summer of 2020, the windows of one of Big Dave's two locations were shattered, and Cole sent Hayes a DM asking if he needed help. He didn't, but the two met for lunch, at a vegan restaurant called Café Sunflower. It was Hayes's first vegan dining experience, though he doesn't recall eating much. "The conversation was so strong," he said. "Next thing you know, we’re together every day."

"It wasn't a date, just two local leaders in the food world," Cole said. "But he was cute." (For some vegans, her choice to get together with a meatmonger remains a sticking point. One man I met at the restaurant, who said he repudiates meat for ethical reasons, complained, "She's not a real vegan." He still shelled out sixty-nine dollars for two Ménages à Trois and two Chik’n Heads, which feature MorningStar Farms’ Incogmeato coated in Buffalo sauce.)

At the Super Bowl party, an impressive spread of food—both meat and veggie—was laid out on a table, though none of it was from Cole's or Hayes's restaurants. They’d hired up-and-coming businesses to cater, including Dougie's Hoagies, owned by a cousin, Douglas Hayes. "It hasn't taken off yet, but I’m coming," he told me. Hayes's ninety-year-old grandmother, Essie, who lives with the couple, was sitting at the kitchen counter eating barbecued chicken. Ichelle, who also lives with them, was upstairs with the children. Cole used the commercial breaks to raffle off cash and copies of "Eat Plants, B*tch," and to preside over Patrón drinking games.

After halftime, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Jaware. Mellow and broad-shouldered, he was holding a green Solo cup in one hand and an unlit joint in the other. "I’m so happy as a big brother to see my sister made it," he told me. "The whole family's riding high." Pinky's oldest brother, Rashan, was with the Slutty Vegan truck for a Super Bowl pop-up in Kansas City, the company's first foray into the Midwest.

"Plenty of potential customers out there, too," Cole said.

The Eagles lost by three points, blowing a fourth-quarter lead, but the mood remained buoyant. "Defeat does not mean de end," Cole said, handing out shots of tequila. A few minutes later, she was at the center of a dance party, with Meek Mill's "Dreams and Nightmares" blasting from the speakers.

Cole told me that when she first started Slutty Vegan her customer base was largely Black. Her restaurants showed people that "you don't have to make a certain amount of money or live in a certain area to be vegan," she said. In that sense, Slutty Vegan belongs to a movement of Black veganism that has seen a renaissance in recent years, propelled by social-justice issues such as health equity and food access. But Slutty Vegan has in some ways outgrown that affinity. "This ain't a Black thing," Cole said. "There's people who are Black, white, yellow, blue, Asian, green. We’re trying to reach them all."

Danny Meyer, the Shake Shack founder, told me that he first visited Slutty Vegan during a trip to Atlanta for a friend's birthday party in 2021, a few months after Shake Shack's Harlem location ran a limited-time SluttyShack burger collab (slut dust, kale, vegan ranch dressing). "Probably the first time a bus of twenty Northern white people descended upon Slutty Vegan," Meyer, who is white, told me, adding, "I could eat slut dust on the back of my hand." Invoking the restaurant's "crossover" appeal, he conjured a vision of two hundred additional Slutty Vegans across the country, "in any city that has an urban vibe to it." He added, "It doesn't have to be a hip-hop vibe, but it helps."

The restaurant industry is notoriously unfriendly to Black talent. In 2019, Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group came under fire for its handling of alleged racial discrimination at its fine-dining jewel, Gramercy Tavern. (Neither Meyer nor Union Square commented publicly about the complaints.) Though Meyer had created a "diversity council" two years prior, only three per cent of the company's salaried employees at the time were Black. His firm's investment of millions in Cole's business suggests a realization that, in Slutty Vegan's case, Black culture is selling vegan food better than vegan food can sell itself.

Leah Garcés, the Atlanta-based president of Mercy for Animals, an international nonprofit working to eliminate factory farming, told me that she's learned a lot from Cole about how to influence people's dietary choices. "As an advocate, I wanna just tell people, It's cruel, don't eat animals," Garcés said. "But, even if you feel that, it's a message that causes walls to go up." Cole's "genius," she added, is that she made vegan dining inspire FOMO. "She takes famous Black actors and rappers and influencers and they go on I.G. and try this burger that's called, like, the Ménage à Trois, and they can't believe it's not meat," she said. "I know vegans all over the world, and they were, like, ‘Have you gone?’ I’m, like, ‘I don't have four hours to wait in line!’ " Cole's aims aren't purely ideological—in our conversations, she never once brought up animal welfare—and by her own admission she is first and foremost a saleswoman. Slutty Vegan, as she puts it, is a "marketing business that just so happens to have a restaurant that sells burgers and fries." But it would be counterproductive for ethical vegans to dismiss her on those grounds. "Taking down factory-farming is hard enough," Garcés told me. "I don't think anyone dares judge Pinky Cole for being a capitalist or anything else."

As a Black-owned food chain, though, Slutty Vegan is answerable to more than one set of political concerns. Mike Jordan, a graduate of Morehouse College and a longtime Atlanta food writer, also called Cole a marketing genius. But he said he worries about her leveraging of Black celebrity and culture to sell Slutty Vegan burgers, given that they’re not all that healthy—or, in his opinion, that good. "Do people like the burger? When you ask them in a safe space, people really don't," he said. "It's all a vibe, and it leads to, If we can get, like, Cardi B and Offset, then we’re good, because hip-hop sells food products." He mentioned the history of junk food being pushed on Black communities through ad campaigns spotlighting "Black aspiration and success." Cole is upsetting certain food stereotypes but, in Jordan's mind, reinforcing others. "To me, it's a scary idea that not great dietary offerings are marketed back to Black people," he said.

By contrast, Jay Bailey, the head of an Atlanta-based nonprofit incubator for Black entrepreneurs, emphasized Cole's role at the forefront of a new generation of business leaders. He often points out that, despite lip service to D.E.I.—diversity, equity, and inclusion—black entrepreneurs receive less than two per cent of venture-capital investment nationwide. "When I think of McDonald's, their avatar is Ronald McDonald. When I think about Wendy's, I think about the redhead with pigtails," Bailey said. "Pinky has an opportunity to truly embody the brand and take it maybe much further than any of them with the charismatic leadership she brings." Through his organization, Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Bailey has helped nurture hundreds of Atlanta businesses, including Shay Latte ("Atlanta's smoothest" coffee), Runningnerds ("a contemporary running community"), and PuffCuff, purveyors of a banana hair clip that "isn't shaped like a banana." To his regret, he has no personal stake in Cole's business. "I missed the boat," he told me, with a rueful chuckle. "I’d sell the farm for a piece of Slutty Vegan."

The day after their Super Bowl party, Cole and Hayes arrived at the Slutty Vegan flagship for the company's first time hosting a wedding. The idea was another Cole promotional scheme: the company would foot the bill, and she’d officiate herself; the proceedings would be documented on Slutty Vegan's social media under the hashtag #LoveAtFirstBite. Cole put out a call and heard from hundreds of candidates hoping to "sluttify" their big day. The winners, James Boozer and Joyce Glaize, an omnivorous couple in their sixties, had planned to marry at the courthouse before Glaize saw the contest on Instagram. "I said, O.K., let's just go with it," Boozer said. "I didn't know she wanted to be the Slutty bride."

Cole's outfit was priest chic: black dress with white trim and creamy "marriage nails" decorated with crosses. A half hour before the ceremony, she hadn't yet written her remarks. I asked if she was nervous. "The only person who could make me nervous is Oprah," she said.

The restaurant had been transformed into an intimate wedding venue, with twenty seats facing a makeshift altar of fake red roses in the shape of a giant heart. ("We had to slim down our guest list from sixty-five," Glaize told me.) Hayes looked tired. "We was up till three," he said. He was craving hangover food, but he’d promised Cole that he’d start a weeklong raw vegan challenge that day. "Tell her these are for you," he told me, placing some fries on a cloth-draped table between us.

Boozer and Glaize were dressed for a black-tie affair—tuxedo and rose corsage, silk bridal gown and floor-length veil. They took their places at the altar in front of a dark cloth backdrop, through which a glaring restaurant display screen was faintly visible. Cole stood before them, beaming. She and Hayes will be getting married, too, in a few months. Her father, Stanley, was released from prison a decade ago and deported to Jamaica, so after a ceremony Stateside they will hold the reception there.

"These two have a love résumé," Cole told the assembled guests, relaying how Boozer and Glaize, sweethearts in their youth, had reconnected on LinkedIn after first marriages and four decades spent apart. "At the end of the day, you show up prepared for the job, because you’ve done the work." The couple's vows had been written with the help of Slutty Vegan employees. "Thank you for being my Sloppy Toppy," Boozer said, reading from a card. "What could have started as a One Night Stand became the love story of my life. You can sometimes be a Fussy Hussy, but you’ll always be my Dancehall Queen." Like many customers exposed to Cole's marketing ploys, the bride and groom seemed both a bit bewildered and genuinely charmed.

A ring bearer approached with the wedding bands, which he held inside a Slutty Vegan Hawaiian roll. A flower girl stood by with a bag of fries tucked under her arm, ready to scatter. Cole teared up as the newlyweds shared their first kiss. Her personal assistant hurried over with a napkin. Dabbing at her eyes, Cole looked out over the crowd. "Who is cutting onions back there?" she said. ♦