Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Derrick Hayes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks Is Helping To Change Our…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Derrick Hayes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks Is Helping To Change Our World

The first thing that comes to mind is how important an operating agreement is. In business, the operating agreement is the title of the company. A lot of people think because you’re CEO, you are the founder. Unfortunately, if the operating agreement is not correct or it is in favor of the other person, they just have just as much ownership as you do. So that was important to know and learn.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derrick Hayes.

Derrick Hayes, this year’s Black Enterprise 40 Under 40 honoree, is an extraordinary multi-million dollar business owner, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, who has left a lasting mark on the industry with his highly successful establishment, Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks (ranked Top #10 Sandwiches in the World by World Food Champions and Honored in Forbes 2021 Next 1000 | Next to Watch). Besides recently being able to franchise his locations, Forbes also just called him the “Colonel Sanders of Cheesesteaks.” All of the West Philadelphia native’s endeavors taste good but the story is even better.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am originally from West Philadelphia and was freshly relocated, moving to Atlanta. I noticed that there wasn’t a real cheesesteak in Atlanta. It just gave me inspiration and I wanted to honor my city and my late father (Dave Hayes) in the right way by bringing water, ice, and Philly style cheesesteaks to the South.​​

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I would say that it was in 2018, when I ranked in the top ten in the world in sandwiches and I did it on the barbecue grill. You know, I was going to this competition in Orange Beach, Alabama, knowing that it was going to be tough for me. I started in one environment and style that I’m used to and when I got there, I realized that I had to cook a cheesesteak on a gas barbecue grill. Being quick on my feet, I decided to go to Walmart and get a hot plate for the grill. From there, I made cheesesteaks on the hot plate during the competition. Now my cheesesteaks are ranked top-ten in the world, but that was one of the things that really threw an obstacle at me in my career that I had to get by.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I would say hiring somebody and not knowing how to get ADP payroll services in order, and paying people through Cashapp, or not knowing how to pay yourself and use taxes. All of those things were learning lessons for me in the early days, and it was important that I learned that. So I would say that was the most important thing.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Yes, we’re making a social impact on every community that Big Dave’s Cheesesteak is located in, because not only are we bringing Philly style cheesesteaks and egg rolls to these communities, we’re providing opportunities by giving careers to employees. So every time we become established in a community, we provide 30 to 40 new jobs. We hire within and not without. So we always show our love for people in those communities because we want them to be a part of the Big Daves’ brand, a Big Daves’ family, and a philanthropy where it just grows outside of that. I’m big on community and what we stand for as a company.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Eve, the rapper back in 2015. She came into my first location which was at a gas station in Dunwoody, Georgia. When she bit the cheesesteak, she posted it on her social media outlets. That gave me a really big jump early in my career helping people become familiar with who I am, who the organization is, what I represent, and that I had a real Philly style cheesesteak in Georgia.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I would say to just keep coming back to the movement because when people can look up at somebody that looks just like them, that makes it look a lot easier to reach their own goals and make it reality. For a lot of people, if they can see it, then they know they can become an important influence to the community as well. #2. People are inspired when we have an opportunity to meet. The engagement is real and the people and community see hope, they see dreams, and they see vision happening for themselves. So if I could tell anybody anything to do, it would be to stand behind me, it would be to keep giving me the platforms to be able to spread my words and share my experiences. Keep on giving me the foundation to keep my businesses open to keep inspiring and providing. Let me fly my wings and keep supporting me so that I can continue to uplift you.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as somebody who stands on their ten toes and their belief set. What they believe in for them and society while at the same time, showing that you are a true leader that can persevere through hard times. For example, when COVID hit and also with the George Floyd riots, I fed over 1,000 people giving out food because the economy was bad. Additionally, I fed over 40 hospitals in less than a month because there were doctors, nurses, security guards and other essential workers that weren’t fully being supported in that way. I tried to at least support them through the Big Daves Brand. I think that is a form of showing character. To me, during tough times in life, when you stand up and show what type of person you are, people always know your character. That shows through leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . The first thing that comes to mind is how important an operating agreement is. In business, the operating agreement is the title of the company. A lot of people think because you’re CEO, you are the founder. Unfortunately, if the operating agreement is not correct or it is in favor of the other person, they just have just as much ownership as you do. So that was important to know and learn.

2 . Second important tip, to build an attorney team to help you with your business. You can have an attorney, but you need the RIGHT attorney. You need a business attorney that specializes in certain areas. You also need a tax and trade mark attorney. So these are the things that I had to learn the hard way but by the grace of God, I’m thankful that horrible things didn’t happen to me along the way. It absolutely could have, however, if I wasn’t smart enough to get the right attorney and the right tax person to be able to take care of my finances.

3 . Another key factor to learn early in business is hiring family. I think it could be good for other companies, but for me, it wasn’t so smooth. I prefer to hire people that aren’t familiar with me so that I can help build them because sometimes when you pull within, it could pull you down. It’s like you guys came from the same environment and if they see you make it and they don’t feel like the same “hand clap of applause” is coming for them, it could be treacherous to your business.

4 . The fourth thing I would say is picking the right location for your business, because if you pick the wrong site that may be around and the wrong type of atmosphere that doesn’t support your brand, it doesn’t fit with your building. It can hurt the ecosystem of your company, and those are the things that I learned along the way, including the right demographics to put Big Daves in along the way. So that was a good teacher for me. Right now, my last two locations have been in the right area.

5 . Lastly, I would say know who you get in bed with professionally. Knowing who you want to help you as a partner, investor, or just along the way. You want people that are smarter than you around you, and that’s what I learned along the way. I want to be around builders.I want to be around people that pushed me to the limit, and that’s what I have differently than I had years ago. I’m around a lot of builders at this point in my life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would say that I would start a curriculum in a high school that helps with building credit, teaching credit, also teaching real financial literacy, as well as explaining how important it is to not get tricked out of your spot in the environment you grew up in. I don’t know what I would actually call this class, but I would come up with a curriculum to actually provide for all of those elements so that all of the school systems around the United States would begin to help that way. It’s important for when you jump out into the real world, you actually know how to control your own credit. You know how to control your bank accounts. You know what’s a tricky situation because you’ve been guided by somebody. It’s really complex.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Life is not a track meet, it’s a marathon. It’s all about how you end, so run YOUR race. I’ve been through a roller coaster of rides. I’ve been through obstacles where a lot of people may not have been able to make it through, but I kept running my race because I know my journey. I know what I want in the end and I know how important it is for me to stay focused so that I can get to the end. I keep on chucking, chucking, chucking every single day. I live by that. So if I could tell anybody anything that will keep their life going forward is that you have to take life as a marathon and not a track meet and focus on how you end.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

LeBron James. I’m really interested in LeBron and myself sitting down one day because LeBron has mastered something that no athlete has mastered in the world, and that is becoming, not only highest paid athlete, but also a businessman still playing basketball, but being able to make his net worth $1 Billion dollars and still playing in the game. As we know, his mindset in business is genius and I would love to rub shoulders with him one day.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

@Officialdhayes is my Instagram and then @Bigdavescheestestakes is my business page. If someone is interested in franchising, visit

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Derrick Hayes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.