Derrick Hayes and Pinky Cole are well on their way to building billionaire empires together. On the “Assets Over Liabilities” season finale, the former was expounding on how he went from selling Philly cheesesteaks out of a gas station to establishing a national brand when his fiancée, Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole, pulled up for the Wednesday (Dec. 7) episode.
But, before hosts Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings hit the Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks businessman with the pleasant surprise, Hayes passionately explained how his late father sparked his entrepreneurship and hard-fought success. The West Philadelphia native’s father was a blue-collar worker who managed to provided his son with everything he needed, but he passed away from lung cancer.
“Before I lost him, he said, ‘Listen, I don’t want you to work for the white man like I did my whole life, and don’t have nothing to show for it,’” recalled Hayes. “I took those words every single day of my life man and really went hard at everythng I wanted. When I built Big Dave’s, it was solely, in the beginning, just to honor his wishes. But, I realized these people out here were needing somebody that look just like them, 40-something tattoos on their body, so they could see that not-[your]-average CEO side. So they could see it’s a brother out here not chasing a hoop dream, not chasing the music industry, that’s going to do it through entrepreneurship.”
“Doing it” is an understatement with Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks now having four locations in Georgia, including two inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a fifth on the way. Hayes did it all off pure hustle and a mean cheesesteak. After taking some injury settlement money, he invested in himself, selling water ice and ice cream for a year before cooking up the cheesesteaks his late grandfather taught him to make. After a clutch co-sign from rapper Eve, his business took off, and he’s kept his foot on the gas pedal ever since.
“I’m not chasing money, I’m chasing levels. How can I get to the next level, so I can inspire my people, so they can see they can do it, too,” said Hayes. “That’s what Big Dave’s is built off of. I didn’t even realize I knew how to make a sandwich that good.”
Helping the community — business actually improved during the pandemic as Hayes pushed to serve those in need — and building generational wealth are themes he went back to throughout the conversation. So, it only makes sense that his partner is Cole, who has built her own empire with Slutty Vegan, which recently opened a new location in Brooklyn. The couple are kindred spirits (although he’s not vegan, so they have two stoves in their house) when it comes to cultural capital.
“I want to make sure I’m being with somebody that’s going to be an asset and not a liability,” Cole insisted, praising their relationship. “I realized early on that he was an asset to me because there were certain things that I knew about business that he didn’t know, and there were a lot of things that he knew about business that I didn’t know. So we’re able to help each other along the way.”
Both Cole and Hayes cited their transparency, in business and personally, as essential. They were also candid about their wins and losses — like Cole admitting she wasn’t initially a good leader, or Hayes recalling how he initially built his first shop without being aware of city requirements, which delayed his opening. Nevertheless, their successes and fast-learning have led them to philanthropy and real estate investment while providing for their growing family and employees. They’ve done so with great food and some savvy organic marketing.
“That cultural capital, you really can’t pay for that,” quipped Cole, whose Slutty Vegan shops always have lines of customers. “You can’t go to school to learn it. You just gotta have it. We have that in an organic, not cocky way, but in a confident way.”
Watch this week’s inspiring episode of “Assets Over Liabilities” here to learn how Derrick Hayes and Pinky Cole are building generational wealth.