In February, Joshua Dat was handed a million-dollar idea. A customer walked into his corner store in Hollis, Queens, and asked for its signature dish — a Jamaican beef patty filled with macaroni and cheese. But could she add oxtail gravy to that? “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Dat says. Neither had the person who was next in line; he overheard that conversation and ordered one, too.
Half a year later, the “mac patty” is on t-shirts and talk shows. It has TikTok videos with millions of views and fans bookmarking them in Turkey. To make the dish, Dat cuts open a Jamaican beef patty on one end and piles on American cheese, baked macaroni, and meats like braised oxtail and curried goat. It becomes a sandwich when he puts the stuffed patty inside of coco bread, a slightly sweet Jamaican bun.
Datz Deli has only been open for eight months, but its viral sandwich is on its way to becoming a million-dollar dish. It’s turned a Queens corner store into a citywide sensation — and its owner into a minor celebrity. “People recognize me in Miami,” Dat says.
Soon, they might know him in Milan: Dat is preparing to take the mac patty worldwide. “I want a Datz Deli in every major city,” he says. He wants to open stores in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Los Angeles didn’t come up (sorry!) but two towns in Florida did. To start, he’s opening a shop on the Lower East Side, at 69 Clinton Street, near Rivington Street, in October.
The new location is different from the original. It will have the same menu but a streamlined layout that’s more Subway sandwich shop, less homegrown deli, Dat says. Customers will order at a counter with ingredients on display. “Nothing is going to be able to imitate the original,” he says. The Queens corner store has shelves lined with Guyanese sodas and snacks imported from China.
Dat, one of six children, opened the shop with his family last December. He told his mom, who left her job as a debt collector to work at the shop, that they needed to make $300 a day to keep the business afloat. Between May and June, they sold more than $300,000 in patties.
It’s safe to say the sandwich is out of their control: On a weekday morning this spring, the line snaked out the front door with customers from New Jersey and New Zealand bundled up in hoodies. A sign on the door reminded them of the rules: “Limit: two patties per person.” Inside, Dat and his mother shuffled behind the counter, reheating patties on a three-rack convection oven.
“We don’t sleep anymore,” Dat says. His deli sells more than 10,000 sandwiches a month. When it happens hundreds of times a day, often on camera, imitators are inevitable: Already, restaurants selling Jamaican beef patties with oxtail mac and cheese have popped up in Crown Heights and Atlanta, Georgia.
Dat isn’t worried about them: He’s just trying to get his second patty shop open by next month. In August, he walked through its halls in front of a hundred of his fans on Instagram Live. “This is just the second,” he said with the conviction of a preacher. “I’m gonna keep going.”
Additional reporting by Annie Harrigan