When Chef Derrick Walton finally opened up his pizza shop six weeks ago, the first thing he did was fulfill a promise he made to himself to serve those in need. Years earlier, the 47-year-old chef from Des Moines was homeless and living on the street, and when no one would help him out, he decided he would be sure and give back the second he had a chance.
Accordingly, with life prospering for him, as soon as Derrick built Chef D's Pizza House in Des Moines, he designated one day a week to close the eatery to the public and open it up to the homeless, free of charge. Every Monday, the cook and his staff feed the less fortunate around the city, and he's doing it all on his own dime.
"It's not even just the homeless, but if they're in need of rent or something," Derrick tells the Good News blog. "If they can come in and get one meal and that will help them out, that's what this is all about."
Growing up in Detroit in a household of eight kids, Derrick says he was raised to be respectful. He learned cooking from his mother, went to culinary school for four years, but later made some bad decisions that landed him on the streets.
"It put me in a position where I needed help from others, but the doors were always closed, I heard a lot of 'no's," he recalls. "I made a promise that if I ever got in a position where I could help somebody, I would give something back."
Down but not out, Derrick first got a job washing dishes, and soon after, he convinced the line cooks to give his own recipes a taste. They were impressed -- "blown away" as the chef describes it -- and they gave him a chance to get behind the stove.
Derrick adds, "I took the initiative. Nobody's going to help you, you have to apply yourself."
In the three years that followed, Derrick worked as a cook while also saving his money and developing a menu of his own, something he could serve at a restaurant one day. That day came when he found a man selling an eatery whose goals aligned with Derrick's. The man was a missionary who'd traveled the world to help others. When he heard what Derrick wanted to do, he offered him the business at a low price.
With that, Chef D's Rock Power Pizza came to be, a restaurant serving pizza, pasta, burgers, salads, and sandwiches, all made from scratch. It's open six days a week, and Mondays are reserved for the less fortunate. He provides them with a protein, starch, vegetable, salad, fruit tray and dessert, and the locals have also started donating dishes.
"I choose to give them the best so that this will give them hope that people still care," Derrick comments. "Each week, it's been so amazing. There were Easter Seals here with autistic adults, and the mayor came this past Monday. He's going to start sending out a bus to the tent cities to pick people up."
He adds, "The mayor said, 'How about 50 people?' I said, 'How about 75?'"
Derrick's also been calling shelters and using the media to get the word out. He's got a wife and two kids of his own, but it appears his neighborhood family is growing exponentially.
"To see the smile on the people's face," he comments, "And to take their mind off whatever they may be going through for 30-40 minutes, that's why I dedicated this day."