Many local people first met Anthony Hayes in high school. After moving to Burien from New Orleans, he became a star football player for the Highline High School Pirates. His extroverted personality, combined with a love of food and restaurants, led to him working his way through the restaurant industry, and eventually opening his own restaurant, Classic Eats.
Even before the pandemic, Hayes worked hard to create a restaurant that served as a destination, attracting visitors from across the region and introducing them to the charms of the Olde Burien neighborhood. He works tirelessly to promote the Burien community and uplift neighboring businesses.
“We all help each other in this neighborhood,” said Hayes. “It’s not about competition. We all benefit when one of us succeeds.”
He has created an atmosphere in his restaurant where hospitality and high-quality customer service have made many local community members view his restaurant as a beloved “third place” gathering space.
“Maybe it’s because I’m from New Orleans and hospitality is so important,” said Hayes. “This restaurant is as much about the feeling you have while eating here as it is about the food.”
When the pandemic began, his restaurant, like all others, had to pivot quickly. Despite challenges, he kept his doors open throughout the pandemic, hiring and mentoring local young adults new to the restaurant industry when his business encountered a workforce shortage. For those who wanted to stay, he kept his staff employed, even when other restaurants were shutting down, providing an essential lifeline for those workers.
“We hired 18-year-olds at the beginning of the pandemic, and they are still with us,” said Hayes. “These are local kids, and after you show them what to do, they have been a real asset to the business.”
Hayes uses his wide network of friends and customers to help his fellow community members by hosting fundraisers for local organizations, donating food to local organizations, and raising money for individual families in need.
Eliot Baker, his long-time friend and fellow Highline Pirate who nominated him for the Citizen of the Year award, described him as a “pillar of the community.” He shared an example of Hayes’ character in the nomination.
“I once emailed Anthony that my elderly father was struggling with cooking for himself. Anthony actually hand delivered 12 days of meal prep to my father. He continued to do this without asking for payment any time needed through the pandemic.”
“Fact is, he kept a lot of people going through the pandemic, including his employees,” said Baker.