Slutty Vegan, the vegan burger chain backed by Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, has been hit with another federal wage theft lawsuit. Three employees at the company’s new outpost in Fort Greene allege the restaurant denied them bonuses and overtime pay amounting to thousands of dollars in losses. Patch first reported news of the lawsuit, which was filed in Brooklyn federal court on April 4.
It’s the second federal wage theft lawsuit so far this year against Pinky Cole, the outspoken founder of Slutty Vegan who was the subject of a feature story in the New Yorker this week. In January, Cole faced a suit from former employees of Bar Vegan, another restaurant she owns in Atlanta, Georgia, alleging unpaid wages. Cole denied the allegations in a post on Instagram, claiming she’s not involved in day-to-day operations at the restaurant and isn’t “familiar with this ordeal” or the employees involved in the suit.
“We are aware of the lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, and are reviewing it with our legal counsel,” a spokesperson for Slutty Vegan said in a statement to Eater. “Slutty Vegan does not comment on any pending litigation, except that it is committed to complying with all applicable laws.”
In Brooklyn, three workers disputed that narrative. Branden Cook, who was employed as a trainer at the restaurant in 2022 and 2023, said he was denied overtime pay and was not reimbursed for expenses related to his uniform. (Cook was required to wear his company polo to work five days each week but was only provided two shirts, according to Patch.)
Two additional employees, Davaughn Clarke and Latoya Adams, allege they were promised bonuses when they were hired in management roles last spring that never materialized. The lawsuit does not estimate the total amount withheld from the employees, but Patch estimates the sum to be over $27,000.
The lawsuit comes amid rapid national expansion plans for the vegan burger chain, which was valued at around $100 million by CNBC last year. In 2022, Slutty Vegan received $25 million from an investment group that includes Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, who’s helped grow restaurant brands like Tacombi and Dig Inn. At the time, Cole planned to open 20 additional locations of Slutty Vegan by the end of 2023.
The restaurant at 690 Fulton Street, at South Portland Avenue, was the vegan chain’s seventh outpost when it opened last September and only the second outside of Georgia at the time. (The first is in Birmingham, Alabama.) In Atlanta, where Slutty Vegan started as a delivery business in 2018, the brand has become known for its hours-long lines and outspoken celebrity fans, including Shaquille O’Neil and Tyler Perry.
In Brooklyn, fans camped out for hours ahead of the opening to get a taste of its vegan burgers and fries. The company followed up on the success with a location in Harlem at the end of March, a homecoming of sorts for Cole, who originally ran Pinky’s Jamaican & American Restaurant, a non-vegan restaurant that shuttered in 2016, following a grease fire.
Update: April 15, 2023, 11:18 a.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Slutty Vegan.