Slows BBQ Owner Inspires Change in Detroit Neighborhood

Phil Cooley brings development to Corktown

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 Cooley.

So, after living in New York and Paris, why did he end up in Detroit?

"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 train station.

"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," said Cooley.

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 new Detroit?

"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.