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Din Yates

Din is owner and chef of the cultishly popular Cheeky Sandwiches in NYC. He opened the business in between traveling the world for shoots and shows as a professional model.

Photography by Ian Durkin @ianbdurkin

Hey there. Can you tell us who you are, and what you do for life.

My name is Din Yates and I live life. I’m the owner/chef at Cheeky Sandwiches. It’s on Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and I opened it up in 2009. I also model… I live for fun.

How would you describe the food?

Some people say we serve “New Orleans-style sandwiches”, which is true. But I like to say they’re sandwiches with passion and love and greatness. It’s basically dinner on a plate.

Ah, right. We hear you’re from New Orleans.

Born and bred. I came to New York City on vacation and was scouted to do some modeling—15 years later I’m still here.

But sometimes you return to NOLA? Can we call it NOLA?

I just call it New Orleans… [laughs].

We heard about one of your adventures down there—you ran there—to New Orleans—from NYC? Tell us about it!

One of the best trips in my life. I was able to see the greatness in people. Being Negro and all, and traveling what's supposed to be very racial route, the Mason-Dixon divide. Everyone I encountered was beyond helpful, offering rides, money, places to sleep, hugs. I actually finished the trip on a bike. My friends found me and brought it to me, so I had to use it.

How did you go from being a model to opening up the shop?

I’d been working in kitchens over the years, and people had been telling me, ‘You should be a cook.’ And then the 2008 crash happened. The big modeling clients were cutting back to save money, so there wasn’t as much work. I thought about what I’d want to do if I wasn’t modeling…. So I splurged. I spent a ton of money. Opening this shop was, like, my version of a mid-life crisis, it was like my version of buying a Lamborghini.

What’s your favorite sandwich on the menu?

I'm too lazy to make anything too complicated for myself. I like to go off menu, and do this kind of chicken thing on Challah bread, with ketchup, pickles, and Tabasco.

Sounds awesome. What’s the secret to crafting a supertasty sandwich?

My first tip is to have patience. Next, don't let any single ingredient overpower [the others]. And lastly, don’t be afraid of [making] a mess.

Jump in fresh—with a little bit of blissful ignorance. On a more practical note, get your lawyer and accountant straight early on.

Din Yates

Any advice for young entrepreneurs out there thinking of starting their own business?

Two things. First of all, just do it. Do it now. It’s important to do a little research, but don’t do too much. If you learn too much, you realize how many problems could happen and it could keep you from acting. So jump in fresh—with a little bit of blissful ignorance. On a more practical note, get your lawyer and accountant straight early on.

Do you have a personal “mantra” or saying that you live by?

Do it now.

You have a family with two young kids. How do you juggle the work-life balance thing?

I’m still learning. My son, Jai, is 12 years old, and we also have a 3 year-old daughter, Leeloo. My wife is really supportive. I get up early early and do things. And sometimes I’ll stop work, come and play and read books with my daughter at her bedtime, and then go back to work afterwards. The balance is what you make of it.

What are your go-to spots around NYC?

I don’t really like going above Delancey [laughs], but there are a few spots I’ll head to because they’re so good. My new favorite is a sandwich shop called Harry and Ida’s, on Avenue A and 12th Street—smoked deli meats, an eel tank (they make eel jerky!), cold and coal smoking to make smoked fish. They serve a pastrami sausage hot dog. This guy is on point. And on Avenue C and 9th Street there’s The Wayland. Live music, good cocktails, and sandwiches. Lastly, I like to Traif, in Williamsburg, for small plates. You can see that the chefs are having fun with cooking and creative-ness. The shortrib sliders. Frog legs. The menu always changes so it’s fun to see [what they come up with].

{{ get-the-look }}

What’s next?

Modeling is still my main hustle, and I have a few projects in the works. We’re working on building a space around the corner from Cheeky Sandwiches, a bakery. And I love doing collaborations. We did a few popups in Paris recently. And I’ve been thinking about creating a rice farm in Louisiana (in New Orleans—in Michoud, to be exact) someday. I traveled to Sri Lanka a bit, and passed through rice fields and noticed that it looks very much like where I grew up in New Orleans. I’d love to grow different fruits and vegetables that aren’t indigenous to that region, but can be cultivated in that climate, so children could come and be part of it, picking fruit, possibly seeing different animals. It’d be fun and give them ideas. It’s become a fantasy, and more I think about it, the more the fantasy seems real.

What did you think about the Wool & Prince shirts? Which one did you wear as a Field Tester?

The wool shirts are neat. And the whole idea behind them—wool button-downs. I wore the blue oxford wool shirt. I usually wear all black and white, so they’re not really in my theme but in a future life I can see myself wearing them with sleeves rolled up and wire-framed rimmed glasses.

Din is 6'2", 188 lbs, and wears a size M button-down.

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