How Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks Increased Revenue and Opened a Second Location During the Pandemic

Big Dave’s Cheesesteak’s, owned by Derrick “D” Hayes, is a gleaning example of success starting from the ground up.

Atlanta-based, Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks has overcome the obstacles that many small businesses have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—from operations and workforce to food and menu, the restaurant and food industry had to adapt. According to the National Restaurant Association, as of Dec. 1, 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily, or for good.

The ability to adapt, pivot, and pour into the community has proven to be a recipe for success for Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks. Within the last eight months, Hayes has increased his restaurant business revenue by $1.5 million, opened a second location, and put a food truck on the road, allowing more options for eager patrons to try the world-renowned Philly Cuisine.

BLACK ENTERPRISE connected with Hayes to discuss adapting his restaurant business and strategy, passion for community, and key pieces of restaurant business advice.

BE: How were you able to adjust your model to meet your consumer’s needs?

Hayes: For Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, we made a decision based on passion, not fear. I decided to give out 1,000 meals during the week of COVID-19 because these customers were here standing in line every day before the shut-down. We also partnered with hospitals and distributed meals for essential workers in our community. It just felt like the right thing to do. We had to find a way to support our customers, and as a result, this had a tremendous impact on how the community looked at our business.

From an operational standpoint, we changed to a take-out-only restaurant. Some customers were upset but we take employee and customer safety very seriously at Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks. We would rather these safety precautions than to possibly put people at risk.

You recently partnered with Slutty Vegan. What led to this partnership? 

We are both passionate about reaching out to our community and giving back in any way that we can. This is what initially brought us together and from that, we began to talk about how we can blend her Slutty Vegan success with Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks success and Dinkies was born. Dinkies is the perfect storm of Slutty Vegan ATL’s vegan comfort food blended with the world-famous recipes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks. We’ll be serving vegan cheesesteaks, cauliflower wings, cheesesteak egg rolls, traditional and sweet potato tots, all made with our special Dinkies seasonings.

What advice do you have for young black men with a dream of being a business owner?

  1. You have to love yourself. You’re going to have a lot of different people telling you what you should be and who you are as a Black man. Embrace who you are, and the differences you bring to the world. This is what will make you great and differentiate you from others.
  2. You have LLC builders and you have entrepreneurs. Not giving up is the key. Research, research, and research some more. Find a mentor in the industry and be humble enough to learn from them.
  3. Love what you do.