October 26, 2023
Baltimore Sun

Baltimore native Pinky Cole will bring her Slutty Vegan, Bar Vegan restaurants to Baltimore Peninsula in 2024

Slutty Vegan, the Atlanta-based burger chain with Baltimore roots, will touch down in the Baltimore Peninsula next year.

Baltimore native Pinky Cole will open new locations of her popular vegan burger chain, Slutty Vegan, and Bar Vegan, a plant-based restaurant and cocktail spot, in Baltimore Peninsula’s Rye Street Market building next year. (Baltimore Peninsula)

Founder Aisha “Pinky” Cole plans to open a location of her uber-popular vegan restaurant in the Rye Street Market, one of five new buildings that have recently cropped up on the 235-acre South Baltimore development site, formerly known as Port Covington. She will also open a new location of Bar Vegan, a sit-down spot serving cocktails and plant-based versions of dishes like tacos and linguine.

Cole was alongside Mayor Brandon M. Scott and officials from the Baltimore Peninsula’s development team Oct. 26 to announce the latest expansion of her vegan empire, valued at $100 million. The Baltimore native, a graduate of Western High School, launched Slutty Vegan five years ago in Atlanta, where she earned a degree in mass marketing and communications from Clark Atlanta University.

The Baltimore Peninsula restaurants represent a “homecoming” for Cole, who drew hundreds of people to a Slutty Vegan food truck pop-up in Hampden last year and hundreds more to an appearance at Baltimore Soundstage in December promoting her new cookbook, “Eat Plants, B*tch.”

“We are going to take over Baltimore in a way that we’ve never done before,” she said.

Both restaurants are expected to open by the fourth quarter of 2024. Cole will be a development partner in the project; she and officials from developer MAG Partners declined to disclose the specifics of the deal but said she will promote and profit from the development beyond her two restaurants.

“It’s not a typical real estate transaction,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder and CEO of MAG Partners, the New York-based development firm that is spearheading the project along with developer MacFarlane Partners. “This project is about impact, it’s about building community and it’s about Baltimore, and she is all of those things. In Rye Street Market, we have an understanding that she will benefit from success in the building that goes beyond the success of her individual restaurants.”

Cole also has plans to open a location of Slutty Vegan in the Northwood Commons development near Morgan State University. The retail center shared the news on Instagram in August. In an interview, she said she still intends to open the Northeast Baltimore location though does not have a timeframe for when that will happen.

The bulk of restaurants in the Slutty Vegan chain have so far been centralized in the Atlanta area, with other locations in Alabama, Texas and New York City. Cole said she recently closed a deal to open a Slutty Vegan outpost at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

At Rye Street Market, Cole’s restaurants will have a prime corner location with views of the Sagamore Spirit distillery and the waterfront. Slutty Vegan will have a fast-casual setup featuring a menu of vegan patties with provocative names like “One Night Stand” and “Ménage a Trois.” (Cole told the Sun in December that she picked the “Slutty Vegan” name in a deliberate effort to generate buzz. “I knew if I named it ‘Pinky’s Vegan,’ nobody was coming,” she said. “But if I named it Slutty Vegan, people would react.”)

Bar Vegan, meanwhile, will be “like the big sister that’s a little more sophisticated and mature,” Cole said. The restaurant, which has another location in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, serves vegan tacos, pasta and sandwiches as well as cocktails. Cole said the space will encourage diners to stick around with live performances and TVs screening sports games. Together, Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan are expected to create about 100 jobs.

The pair of restaurants are the first retail tenants to be announced for the Rye Street Market, a 275,000-square-foot building that houses offices as well as 38,000 square feet dedicated to retail. Developers are looking to fill the space with a mix of local and national tenants, Gilmartin said.

Other recent construction at the Baltimore Peninsula includes two office buildings with spaces leased so far to CFG Bank and the H. Chambers Co. design firm, as well as two residential buildings, Rye House and 250 Mission, which began leasing this spring. A Roost hotel opened in July, and Rye Street Tavern, a waterfront restaurant, is slated to reopen early next year under the management of Washington, D.C.-based Clyde’s Restaurant Group.

Cole joined the Baltimore Peninsula project after a member of her management team, KD McNair, connected her with developers there. She met with Kevin Plank, the Under Armour founder and a driving force behind the Baltimore Peninsula project via his Sagamore Ventures investment firm.

“I’ve followed his career for a while,” Cole said. “We realized that coming together would be a big win for the city, especially because I’m from Baltimore.”

Plank, who started buying up land for the redevelopment about a decade ago, said Cole was “bringing that Baltimore grit back home for us” with the opening of her Baltimore Peninsula restaurants.

“When I first met Pinky, I knew immediately that she was the right partner for the project,” he said at the Oct. 26 announcement, before addressing Cole. “What you mean is so much more than another lease opening in a group of buildings. This is another cornerstone in our amazing city that we are going to build.”

The homecoming announcement was accompanied by an upbeat performance from Morgan State University’s marching band, confetti and free Slutty Vegan burgers.

Cole said she hopes her expansion to Baltimore will inspire other entrepreneurs.

“I have been promoting Baltimore since the beginning,” she said, “so when people see all the accolades and accomplishments, it’s not just a win to me, it’s a win for the city. I would love for people to say, ‘Pinky achieved it, I can too.’”

Baltimore native Pinky Cole (pictured in 2022) is the founder of Slutty Vegan plant-based burger chain. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

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