Big Dave’s Cheesesteak Set to Open Brick-and-Mortar Location in Forest Park

Restauranteur and West Philly Native Derrick Hayes Expands Cheesesteak Empire
Derrick Hayes to open Forest Park branch of Big Dave's Cheesesteaks
Photo courtesy of Drea Nicole Photography
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Derrick Hayes, CEO and founder of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, seems unstoppable. The West Philadelphia native started small when he brought his award-winning recipe for Philly cheesesteaks to Atlanta. Today, he’s set to open his third brick-and-mortar location in Forest Park, and that’s just the tip of the empire.

In 2014, Hayes opened the original Big Dave’s in a small Dunwoody gas station, inspiring a large and loyal clientele. In November 2019, he made his move, closing the original location and opening two larger restaurants, in Doraville and downtown Atlanta. “We’re simply moving to a bigger location with more parking down the road,” Hayes told What Now Atlanta.

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Of course, nothing would be simple in the coming months. COVID hit before they had time to break in the new grills, and then Hayes’ community consciousness kicked in. 

“When the pandemic hit, my accountant was like ‘What are you doing? We don’t know what we’re looking at.’ But my heart knew what I was doing,” he told Rise Up Tonight: In the Nest. “It’s not just about selling cheesesteaks, we’ve got to be here for each other. I said, we’re going to send food to these hospitals. We’re going to feed these people waiting in line. Without the community, there wouldn’t be a Big Dave’s.”

The accountant shouldn’t have worried. The restaurant gave free meals to healthcare heroes and distributed face masks and other medical supplies to neighboring hospitals. And yet, “COVID was a boon for the business,” Forbes magazine notes dryly. “Sales grew by $1.5 million.”

By 2022, Hayes was collecting accolades—and launching a line of All-purpose Cheesesteak Spice. He was honored as and Forbes 1000 Entrepreneur, as a “King of Color” by Morehouse College, and made the cover of Essence magazine with fiancée Pinky Cole, founder and CEO of Slutty Vegan. The duo, dubbed the “Atlanta Food Power Couple” by the AJC, had their second child last year. (Hayes also has two daughters from previous relationships.)

In addition to the new Forest Park location, which will have an expansive patio and walk-up window, Big Dave’s also operates a food truck and three locations in the Mercedes Benz Stadium, all “offering mouth-watering flavors from his hometown of Philly in the form of beef, chicken and salmon cheesesteaks, hand-rolled egg rolls and other melty, larger-than-life flavors for all to enjoy,” according to a press release.

The new location will replace Debbie’s Delights, which closed in September 2022 but is still available for catering.

Paige R. Penland

Paige R. Penland has been covering hospitality and travel since 2003, when she began writing Lonely Planet travel guides with reviews of restaurants from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But there's no place like home, and she’s excited keep Atlanta in the know with What Now.

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