A West Philly native is cheesesteak a star in Atlanta
Two days before Derrick Hayes, 33, lost his father to lung cancer in 2009, his father told him that he did not want him to work for the man, “being abused and exploited as if he were all his life”.
Those words stuck with Hayes, who moved to Atlanta and used his savings to open Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, a takeaway restaurant named after his late father.
33-year-old Hayes, who grew up in West Philadelphia, started his business selling cheese steaks on a soft Amoroso roll with three cheeses, his late grandfather’s spice recipe, mushrooms, peppers and onions from a small room next to a gas station in a profitable company with two stationary locations and a 26-foot food truck that only serves spring rolls.
Hayes originally planned to open a concept for selling water ice. But the Philly treat didn’t immediately turn out to be profitable. After ordering a cheesesteak from an Atlanta restaurant that left him unimpressed, he installed a griddle and deep fryer that barely fit in that tiny grocery store kitchen.
Big Dave’s popularity took off after a visit from Philadelphia rapper / actress Eve. The Grammy winner was in Atlanta filming Barbershop: The Next Cut.
A mutual friend told Eve that there is an authentic Philadelphia spot in town that she should check out. Eve planned a visit and told Hayes that she would post his chicken cheesesteak on all of her social media accounts if she liked it.
After Eve’s visit, customers began to wriggle around Big Dave’s.
A who’s who of the Atlanta entertainment scene began to post. Migos, Meek Mill, Lil Uzi Vert, Lou Williams, DJ Drama, Don Cannon and Lena Waithe shared their visits to Big Dave’s through their social media addresses.
“I knew this was my chance,” says Hayes, who graduated from Overbrook High School. He said it took patience to watch the business grow. All of Hayes’ restaurants now sell water ice, which has become a popular menu item in Atlanta
Hayes recently opened a second Big Dave’s and is now using its success to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs and those less fortunate.
“A dream comes true,” said Hayes. “It’s something I love to do and I enjoy making people smile.” Hayes, who stays in touch with Philadelphia’s food scene through social media, said he was most proud of it, Big Dave’s as a legacy for his daughters Dallas, 6) and Denver (5).
When the pandemic broke out, Hayes was feeding frontline workers at 40 hospitals in the Atlanta metropolitan area and hosting free happy hours for customers. “They depend on their paychecks or struggle to feed their children. The least I can do is distribute food and help out as best I can. “
Hayes also donated $ 26,000 to help several companies keep their doors open. His charity, the David and Derrick Hayes Foundation, awarded its first scholarship to a Georgia State University student specializing in neuroscience.
“You have to be there for people because they were there for you,” continues Hayes. “You can’t just take your money and when times get tough you fold. It can damage your bank account, but it’s worth it because you’re all sticking together. “
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The community retaliated when the windows in downtown Big Dave, Atlanta were broken twice after protests last summer. Rapper Russ donated $ 20,000 to Big Dave’s; SchoolboyQ followed with $ 10,000 in repairs.
This community building led to further collaborations. Hayes recently teamed up with Aisha “Pinky” Cole, the owner of Slutty Vegan, a popular plant-based restaurant.
The two opened Dinkies, a vegan Philly cheesesteak concept. The two entrepreneurs and humanists have also partnered with Atlanta Life Insurance Co. to offer one-year paid life insurance to black men ages 15 to 39 who earn less than $ 30,000 a year, mental health, yoga, and wellness Offer.
“We have to stand together and stand for something,” said Hayes.
Hayes plans to expand Big Daves campus to HBCU campus which is only occupied by students.
“Eating is just my stepping stone,” he says. “I’m trying to break cross-generational curses so it’s bigger than food because I’m helping the community now.”