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GOOD 100: Meet Phillip Cooley, Re-Inventing the Pork Barrel

Phillip Cooley is a heartthrob and restaurateur who left a successful modeling career to return to Detroit to make some kind of difference. While the pulled pork at his joint, Slows BarBQ, would probably be enough to get him on this list, Cooley has also been funneling his success into important local ventures, such as rehab work in Roosevelt Park, and a new multi-culti collaboration space called Ponyride, where tenants will receive subsidized rents in exchange for teaching others their skill or craft. His ultimate goal is to recreate public spaces to create a welcoming, greener environment for locals.

This year, Cooley is working around the clock to re-open Slows BarBQ after closing for renovations and expansion. Once the restaurant, which is the main source of funding for Cooley’s other projects, is up and serving again, he will be focusing primarily on Ponyride— a collaboration space that helps incubate and accelerate socially minded entrepreneurs and craftspeople.
“The project is a year old, but at the start we were a small group of friends sleeping in cubicles and dismantling a hideous 1980's office renovation,” Cooley says. “We are now legally zoned with a waiting list to get in.”


Cooley purchased the 30,000-square-foot space for $100,000, and after putting more than $200,000 and 250,000 hours of volunteer labor into it, Ponyride is housing tenants for one-fifth the market rate. What’s the catch?
“We require free community classes teaching your craft or skill in order to receive the rent subsidy,” Cooley says.
Tenants at Ponyride are versed in everything from music production to metal smithing, each sharing his or her skills to make magic.
“It's beautiful and productive when our denim jean tenant and the team that makes coats for the homeless that become sleeping bags collaborate, but we are most excited about what happens when a boat maker collaborates with a hip-hop dance crew,” Cooley says.
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