Slows BBQ Owner Inspires Change in Detroit Neighborhood
Phil Cooley brings development to Corktown
10:15 AM, May 24, 2010
4:07 PM, May 24, 2010
DETROIT (WXYZ) - You can smell Slows BBQ before you ever step inside. For five
years it's been a fixture in Detroit's Corktown. It's always packed
with hipsters, sports fans and suits.
"I live upstairs so it's nice every time walk out the door I
smell bacon," says thirty-two year old Phil Cooley.
He's Slows part owner and full time Detroit booster, who brings
young and creative juices to a city that needs it.
"We need a strong urban core that's going to attract people to
stay and create," said Cooley.
Cooley's journey to Detroit. is not a conventional one. He grew
up in Marysville, in St. Clair county, and went to school in
Chicago. Then he hit the jetset life as a model.
"Anyone who was a 6'1" and skinny was a model," joked
So, after living in New York and Paris, why did he end up in
"Because," said Cooley, "it was a place where a person my age
could come and you know just be a part of something. I can come
here, collaborate and meet interesting people that are doing unique
things and be effective."
At age twenty-six he created Slows with the help of his dad and
brother. And as an architecture school drop out, Cooley and his
friends built the place.
"The timbers, instead of throwing them away we ended up reusing
them for tables, walls, architectural detail, our fence and our
door," said Cooley.
But after Slows was up and running well, Cooley started looking
around for more projects. So he fixed up the median outside the
restaurant. Then he got an idea for a park down the street.
Roosevelt park is smack in front of one of Detroit's biggest
eyesores, the old train station. But Cooley along with friends, got
grants and donations of three hundred thousand dollars for a
beautiful space. They did the work themselves, down to driving the
front end loader.
"We all pitch in," said Cooley. "It's like playing tonka trucks,
it's awesome, it's like every little boy's dream."
He might get to move more dirt for a new skate park next year.
Cooley even met with skater Tony Hawk's foundation in California to
make it happen.
Now his big dream project is to bring art and life to the
"If you look at the train station, you look at that as potential
and beauty," said Cooley.
Cooley's already had a tour from representatives of owner Matty
Maroun. He and his group are in contact with the people behind
Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
"That space seems to very urban and vibrant and I think that
needs to be a space of creation. So we're looking at performance,
urban art and installation. Those sorts of things for the space,"
His mind seems to be constantly turning. Beyond Slows and his
projects, Cooley sits on the board of an organization that helps
small businesses grow, another about preserving architecture and
even on the board of Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project.
"How can we start working together as a whole as a community and
start making the land and the structures work for us instead of
being a detriment," said Cooley.
But Cooley admits it's not all perfect. He partnered on a coffee
shop across from Slows that went out of business. And he's quick to
point out he doesn't do this alone, but collaborates with a lot of
great groups and other businesses that lead the way.
It's his contagious grass-roots-anthing-is-possible spirit, that
keeps Cooley thinking of Detroit's future.
What's his reaction when people say he's the poster child of a
"You know," Cooley said "I'm one of them, one person trying to
do positive things in Detroit. But everyone, anyone that wants to
think positively about Detroit is a poster child for Detroit."
One of Cooley's projects is a new Slows BBQ. It's called Slows
to Go for carry out. It will open sometime in July on Cass
near Wayne State.