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Derrick Hayes Breaks Generational Curses Through Community and Entrepreneurship

Derrick Hayes has become a popular face behind one of the nation's newest food sensations. Launching Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks restaurant in the Atlanta area was not only a dream but a way to honor the man who gave him life while changing the lives of others.

Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Derrick grew up with the mindset of winning but in order to do it, he knew his surroundings would have to change. “I come from the jungle so I was born to be a survivor,” he says. One thing that allowed him to believe in himself was the relationship he had with his father. As he grew older, the conversations they had would change his trajectory and lead him to leave Philadelphia to create a different life in Atlanta.

“Back in 2009, my father got diagnosed with lung cancer, and all the way up to his deathbed that was a learning lesson for me. I got an opportunity to actually talk to my father one-on-one before he passed. His dying wish was for me to change myself because he believed in me. I could break the barriers of our generational curses and I could carry the torch. I took that and I ran with it because, honestly, when you make a promise to somebody that you respect so much, it hurts so bad when you feel like you failed them,” Derrick shares.

During his younger years, he vividly remembers going to church with his aunt. One day, someone spoke to him and said he would one day grow up and preach to people. At this time, he didn’t believe that and had aspirations of being a basketball player. But little did he know those words would become true. Although he isn’t in a church behind a pulpit, he has created a brand that garnered a large following and those people would listen to his words. His words have inspired people. His words have changed the lives of many and his words continue to strengthen every person he encounters.

His entrepreneurial endeavors started when he first opened a water ice shop inside of a Shell Gas station in Atlanta. He wanted to create something that he was familiar with and could add his own flavor. He decided to take a Philadelphia classic, cheesesteaks, and bring it to Atlanta. In the course of six years, the Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks brand has become nationally recognized and the popular cheesesteak egg rolls will soon be available in grocery stores. He has also been named Forbes 2021 Next 1000, Atlanta Magazine’s 2020 Best of Atlanta and his company was ranked Top 10 Sandwich in 2018 by the World Food Championship. Even with all the accolades, Derrick’s focus is on his brand, continuing the legacy of his father, the legacy that he can leave behind for his children, and being a part of the change within his community.

Recently, Derrick partnered with Pinky Cole to introduce Square One, a life insurance program that aims to provide insurance to over 25,000 Black men of the world by the end of 2023. The idea was birthed because, collectively, they were tired of seeing people create GoFundMe pages and "slide in DM’s" to raise money for the funerals of loved ones. Since we come from communities where the death rate is high, we need to put more emphasis and effort into obtaining life insurance. The Square One program aims to teach financial literacy as well as provide PTSD classes for people who were affected by but never healed from traumas. “This is bigger than a life and death thing. We’re teaching you how to grow equity from life insurance. It’s a financial game,” Derrick explains.

The goal is to teach by example and show people it’s okay to seek and share knowledge. “We have to teach people it’s okay to give knowledge because guess what you’re going to do? You’re going to open a door that may have been closed for you because that other person could open it faster,” he says. When Derrick speaks to young people, he doesn’t want them to feel stuck or become a product of their environment. He wants them to feel empowered and to know that they can change themselves because if a guy like Derrick who has gone through things can become Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, they too can become somebody. He didn’t have to dribble a basketball or throw a football. He did it through entrepreneurship and off of spreading the message to somebody else. Derrick has accomplished so many things in his years and has no plans of letting up off of the gas. “My life is different every day. I never know when I walk in. I just got to be ready for what I’m walking into. I asked for these shoes and I tie them every day,” he shares.

Check out the Big Dave’s brand online at

Photo Credit: Brian Javon

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