How Derrick Hayes got caught up in crime but turned his life around to become a celebrity restaurateur

Abu Mubarik June 06, 2022
Derrick Hayes. Photo: Big Dave's Cheesesteaks

Derrick Hayes is the founder of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, one of the fastest-growing businesses in Atlanta, Georgia, that makes cheesesteaks. The West Philadephia native named the restaurant after his father to honor him after he passed away. Honoring his father was the least he could do for making him who he is today.

Hayes however learned how to cook by spending time in the kitchen with his grandfather growing up as a kid. He subsequently learned how to prepare dishes and create spices on his own, culminating in his undying love for the food industry. 

“On Sundays, when he would go to church, I had to finalize his Sunday dinner if I didn’t attend church with him. So over the years, it was just me, learning and mastering the spices he taught me. Later in life, it winds up panning out for me, and I didn’t have to attend school,” Hayes told Forbes.

However, it was not until he moved to Atlanta and tried the city’s version of a Philly cheesesteak that he knew the path to take to “bring that real deal to Atlanta.”

“The real Philly, outside of the tri-state, [has] never been done. No one has ever respected a cheesesteak the way they respect Big Dave’s right now, so I’m making history,” he said.

Since then, locals and scores of celebrities have been to his restaurant’s two locations. Five years ago, rapper and actress Eve visited Hayes’ 700-square-foot Shell gas station location to enjoy his cheesesteak while filming a project in Atlanta. The restaurant became a center of attraction after she posted a picture of the sandwich on social media.

Today, many Atlantans and celebrities like the Migos, Lena Waithe and Meek Mill have tasted Hayes’ cheesesteaks. With just two locations and a food truck, Hayes oversees a multi-million dollar business, according to Forbes.

Besides his restaurant business, Hayes also boasts of a growing portfolio of real estate properties. The celebrity restaurateur also has partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and major brands like Pepsi and Puma.

Hayes did not have a rosy upbringing. He was raised in an impoverished neighborhood and found himself in a life of crime to provide for himself. He was arrested for selling drugs and appeared in court. However, his case was dismissed because the detective who intended to testify against him at his trial did not show up. Hayes also attributes this to his sister’s continuous prayers for him.

Following his ordeal, Hayes decided to turn over a new leaf and make an honest living. He decided to venture into the culinary industry, leading him to establish Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks.

Hayes, who is also a philanthropist, fed some 40 hospital workers during the pandemic. He also provided food to more than one thousand customers in his neighborhood and raised funds to help Black-owned businesses in Atlanta.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 6, 2022


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