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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Taking your time to get to know Las Vegas can pay off

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Phil Pascal and Demont Daniel brought the party to Picnic on a recent Friday.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Tales of people coming to town in hopes of dipping their ladle into Downtown’s fountain of gold are innumerable. They see the “$350 million” that Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project is investing and seem blinded by the number. You just arrive and it all comes your way.

I’ve received so many calls and emails in the past two years from people hoping I can help them meet Hsieh. They expect to set up a business in a few months, but getting rich quick is hard. I’m not sure I know anyone who has really done it.

You have to put in the time. Phil Pascal gets that. Born in Haiti, Pascal spent most of his formative years in Georgia, raised by his no-nonsense mother, Stephanie. I first saw Phil right around the time I set up shop at the counter of the Beat coffeehouse as Joe Downtown in December 2012. I didn’t know him, but was mildly annoyed that he sat in the same exact chair—two spots away—almost every single morning. Of course, I sat in the same chair every morning, too.

We didn’t talk for months, but I noticed his morning routine: order an egg and cheese croissant sandwich, say a little prayer over it, drink his coffee, call his mom. Not only that, but he was the only black guy I saw there day in, day out. Of course, there are black people Downtown, but Phil was there every day.

“Who the hell are you?” I finally asked one day.

He burst out laughing.

Phil, in his 30s, moved here in January 2013 to start an e-business, working months to get a food-delivery service app off the ground. During the day he’s a server at the airport.

The food delivery thing never took off, but Phil did. You can’t walk down Fremont Street with him without being stopped a dozen times by people hugging him or saying hello. He makes friends wherever he goes, because he’s around and the type who will help you move.

“Run for office,” I’ve told him more than once.

He just laughs.

When I did a story on Heart Attack Grill in October, two contestants for the restaurant’s “Big, Beautiful Woman Dating Game” didn’t show up. Phil downed a can of beer and became a contestant. And won.

It hasn’t always been easy. Cops stopped him once to frisk him because while he crossed the street the light flashed “Don’t Walk.” It was ridiculous and heavy-handed and it scared him.

But he stayed Downtown. He took his time and it’s starting to pay off.

A few weeks ago he put out invitations for a Friday night pool party at Picnic, the rooftop poolscape at Downtown Grand. He received 800 RSVPs, but he wasn’t sure what to expect. With so much to do in Las Vegas at night, people make plans and break them all the time.

More than 600 showed up for the party, which featured five DJs and— with the help of the Grand’s staff and his business partner, Finesse Media CEO Demont Daniel—went off without a hitch. It may have been one of the busiest Friday nights for the Grand, which opened last October.

That it was First Friday probably helped, as the monthly event draws some 20,000 to 30,000 people Downtown.

Days later, Phil was still stoked by the turnout. He’s planning another event, and eventually wants to form a media and government consulting company. He’s taken his time. He’s gotten to know Las Vegas and its people, laid a foundation.

Now he’s making some moves.

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