Derrick Hayes has always had a vision for bringing Philadelphia, PA, culture to his newfound home of Atlanta, GA.

According to CNBC’s “Make It,” his Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks flagship restaurant in downtown Atlanta raked in $2.3 million in profits over the past year.

How It All Began

Hayes’ cheesesteak business first began as a water ice endeavor, another Philadelphia staple that he wanted to pay homage to down in the South.

Although he’s shifted to mouthwatering subs instead, one thing remains the same — honoring his late father, whom Hayes credits for igniting his passion to become an entrepreneur.

“I watched my father die in front of me,” Hayes recalled. “He asked me to make him a promise. ‘I don’t want you to work like I did my whole life and have nothing to show for it.’”

Today, Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks has multiple locations — with three located in the Mercedes Benz Stadium, home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

There’s another pair of his restaurants housed in two additional Georgia locations, and earlier this year Hayes opened another one in a suburban Atlanta neighborhood.

Unlikely Support Along The Journey

What’s more, Hayes will expand to Charlotte, NC, this fall, which is a long way from his first year of business where he ran operations outside of a local Atlanta gas station.

He revealed that within that initial year, the business drew in less than $100,000 in sales. However, thanks to support from a fellow Philadelphia native, rapper and actress Eve, business began to boom.

“Eve went on every social media outlet she had and said, ‘The real deal cheesesteak is in the South, he’s from Philly and ya’ll make sure you support this brother.’ The next day I had a line out the door,” Hayes said.

Minor Setbacks For A Major Comeback

Despite that success, Hayes was forced to temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

He had just opened his flagship Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks location a year prior.

Hayes’s story is proof that things can happen for a reason because, during that same time, another Atlanta business owner reached out to offer him support for the business. That person was Slutty Vegan’s Pinky Cole. 

The two clicked, and now they are married with two daughters and expecting a son soon.

What's Next?

Looking ahead, Hayes wants to get back to the same community outreach that he and Cole bonded over when they first met — and that’s by way of franchising his restaurant. 

“I think entrepreneurs are going to eat it up,” he said. “Pun intended. I already know that we have the No. 1 cheesesteak in the country.”

Overall, Hayes’s goal is to open 100 franchise locations by the end of 2025, noting that he’s dreamed big since the very beginning and wants to help others do the same. 

“I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I wasn’t a businessman,” Hayes expressed. “I’m making it for the people. If they want to get involved with what we’re building, we are going to help them up.”

The goal is to have his first batch of franchisees be people with current experience in the food industry, but ultimately Hayes aims to offer support to people who come from an array of backgrounds, including those who have previously faced legal troubles or chose a route other than college, to inspire their entrepreneurial dreams.