Harlem has finally been “Sluttified” thanks to its Tuesday, Mar. 7, grand opening of Slutty Vegan. This marks the Black-owned vegan burger chain’s second New York City location and ninth overall location. The $100 million franchise brought out a long line of many supporters despite the 30-degree temperature on a windy New York City afternoon.

Slutty Vegan employees have greetings using variations of the word “slut” when customers walk into the establishment. “Hey, slut, welcome!” is the first greeting heard on entering the vegan franchise. First-time visitors receive extra endearment by an employee shouting, “We got a virgin in the building” through a microphone while ringing a cowbell. Customers are told, “Thank you for being Sluttified, have a great day” as they exit. 

The sexual connotations of the word “slut” are being challenged by founder and owner Aisha “Pinky” Cole. The CEO said the company is redefining the word to mean a term of endearment. “It’s like saying, ‘Hey friend,’” said Cole. “We do that because we want to show people that there is power in the tongue and as long as you can recreate negative narratives and make [them] positive, you will always win.” Those greetings and farewells using the word “slut” have become part of Slutty Vegan’s culture. Cole said her plant-based business was never just a “fast-food place”; she called it a cultural movement. 

“I’m happy that so many people continue to support [us], even five years later,” said Cole. “Businesses usually don’t last that long—not the restaurant industry, anyway.” Cole said she felt “amazing” on Slutty Vegan’s Harlem opening day and grateful for the lengthy line on 135th Street despite the 30 degree weather. She believes that she and her team are doing honorable things for people to support. 

“Sloppy Toppy” burger and fries Credit: Brenika Banks photo

“I’m just happy to be a staple in the community now all over again; it feels good,” said Cole. She once had a restaurant in Harlem that she lost to a grease fire in 2016. Cole describes her Slutty Vegan Harlem location as a full-circle moment. “New York is like home to me,” she said. 

The timing of the grand opening coincided with Women’s History Month. Cole said it’s Women’s History “every single day; we aren’t going to just use a month to identify the greatness that women have always possessed.” She is an advocate for women, especially Black women, running businesses while changing the narrative of what someone should look like as a business owner. “You don’t have to be a man in a suit anymore; you could be a chick with a hoodie, some jeans, and some sneakers on,” said Cole. “I’m in the business of disrupting ceilings; I’m a disruptor.”

Harlem native and restaurant employee Aquiline “Que” Hayes is excited that Slutty Vegan has opened in Harlem. She is happy to have the privilege to walk down the block from her home and “experience this culture” that Cole has created. Hayes’s first day on the job was as front door greeter. “This is an iconic moment!” said Hayes, not missing a beat while greeting customers. 

She was curious about the vegan burger chain and flew to Atlanta a few years ago to try it herself. Now, as an employee, she’s a part of the growing cultural movement and adds her Harlem swagger to her greetings. “Harlem energy is just different,” said Hayes. “When I’m at the front door, you’re going to understand why Harlem is Harlem.” 

She shared her favorite greetings during the excitement of the grand opening: “‘We got a slut in the building’ and ‘We got a virgin in the building’ are my favorite ones,” said Hayes. “It acknowledges the people; we are celebrating the people and it’s a collective effort.”

The collective energy of great vibes were present for DJ Vybz Empress, who was hired to lend her musical talents to the opening. Empress depicted her experience DJing at the grand opening as amazing. “The energy was through the roof; you just had to be there to experience those vibes,” said the DJ.

Vybz Empress is proud to have DJing for the CEO of Slutty Vegan on her résumé. She called this opportunity an “honor” and indicated her sincere appreciation of Cole as another Black female entrepreneur. “It’s important we stick and work together to show the generation after us that teamwork really makes the dream work,” said Empress. 

Collective support is the main component of making any dream work, even if it’s as simple as word of mouth, according to Onerine Browning. She was excitedly screaming “Slutty Harlem!” while waiting in line for her meal, although she is familiar with Cole’s establishment. “I came back in 2019 to New York [from Atlanta] and I’ve been telling everybody about Slutty Vegan; now they’re in Harlem,” said Browning. 

Despite crediting the entire menu as her favorite, she chose the “One Night Stand” burger during the opening. The Harlem native has been vegan for the past four years. “I’m not going back,” said Browning. She lives by the saying “health is wealth,” and is convinced that feeding her body plant-based meals, especially Slutty Vegan, promotes good health.

Bronx artist Ian Sullivan said Slutty Vegan’s grand opening is a great way to properly introduce vegan fast food on 135th Street, which didn’t have a vegan restaurant until now. “[Cole] really knows what she is doing,” said Sullivan. “She’s got a way with her own style, and everybody seems to absolutely love it.” Sullivan isn’t vegan but thoroughly enjoyed the food. He defined his burger as being “fire” and “seriously amazing.” 

“[Cole’s crew] does an amazing job of bringing out all the flavors—having all the right textures so it’s not too obvious that it is vegan,” said Sullivan. The graffiti artist was flattered to be contacted via Instagram as the official artist for the Harlem opening. He characterized his piece for the event as a design style deriving from ways to use artistic tags. “Inside the designs, I’ve hidden a bunch of words that are relevant to [Slutty Vegan] itself and the neighborhood,” he said. “I got [the word] ‘Harlem’ up here, ‘NYC’ is here, and ‘125th’; the other one is ‘ATL’ because that’s where this started.” 

Sullivan was shocked at the crowd who were dedicated to waiting in line for their taste of Slutty Vegan. Employees kept the energy high with calls like “When I say Slutty, you say Vegan…” happening throughout the day. 

For more information about the company, including menu items and more NYC future openings, visit www.sluttyveganatl.com.

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