Q&A number 4 in this series with a lot more on the way. This is a great follow up from last week’s post about Poo from Lefty’s Barbershop, as Brian Burt is the guy who originally started Lefty’s back in the day. Since then Brian has sold Lefty’s, started other shops, worked at some, and consulted on others. He’s been around, and to me, always seems like the the most professional of barbers. A guy that holds himself and other barbers to a very high standard. He embraces his less than legal past with no shame and uses it to better his future. Gotta love that.
FYI: These images of Brian were taken when he was cutting at Vinnie’s in Los Angeles. He now owns his own place (Lyle’s Barbershop) in Portland, OR.
Follow Brian on Instagram @lyles_barbershop.
“It’s not about how many tattoos you have….”
1) Where are you from and what did you do prior to barber college?
I'm from a small town in Washington State called Puyallup located about 30 miles south of Seattle. Days Before starting barber college I worked in construction part time and was selling and transporting large amounts of marijuana.
Can you tell me more about your time transporting marijuana?
Days before enrolling in barber college, I was a drug mule. I was spending on average 10 to 15 days a month transporting marijuana to other states via Canada. This was in the late 90's early 2000's and it was a big operation, I mean pounds of marijuana would come south of the boarder ( that's a whole other story) and I would fly up to Seattle from San Diego, rent a car, pick up the package, drive to Colorado or wherever and drop it off. Then I'd pick up the money and drive back to San Diego. I'd do this at least 2 times a month. I'd also invest in a couple pounds to distribute around San Diego as well, it was a very lucrative business for a 27 year old but once I hit my 30's the business was slowing down and I was burning out on all the traveling. I started transporting less and started working construction part time but I hated it. I hated getting dirty and being told what to do and the pay was terrible compared to the 8K a month I'd make on a transporting.
Back then I had hair so I was going to the barber shop every week. I was learning and studying the business model of this shop on my visits. And seeing that it’s a cash business and you're your own boss, it looked like my barber was having a good time and loving what he did. So in 2003 I enrolled and never looked back. Actually, I did sell my last 2 ounces of weed while in barber college.
2) You have opened and sold a number of different shops (including Lefty’s in San Diego). What was that process like and what lead you to sell?
Yes, I've opened 3 of my own shops, and consulted 2 other shops. I love the entire process of building a barbershop. I love walking into a empty space and having a vision of what the finished barber shop is going to look like. Selling or leaving a shop is always bitter sweet. You know, you've put all your love, energy, blood, sweat and tears into a space, then you’re walking away. But usually there is a nice stack of cash to help you feel better about your decision... lol
2a) What’s it like to see Lefty’s still pumping today as a staple in San Diego?
Man, seeing Lefty's up and running today is an amazing feeling. Knowing that a LOT of our original patrons are still going there today is mind boggling. I never thought a shop I started would be a thriving business 12 years later. I’m so stoked that it still looks exactly like it did when i opened the doors 12 years ago.
3) How have you seen your attitude change toward barbering in 15 years?
My attitude really hasn't changed much in the past 15 years as a licensed barber. I’m still hard on myself and my barbers. I still treat the client like they are the most important person in the room. I still have major OCD of keeping my work station and shop extremely clean and welcoming.
Can you talk more specifically about how the OCD plays out as a barber?
My OCD, has always been a struggle. Way before becoming a barber I always kept my car clean, shoes fresh ( wiping them down daily) so it has naturally carried on to my barbering. I dust off my patron at least 20 times during the service and get compliments from customers daily, " Brian, I can go straight back to work after you cut my hair, you never leave hair on me or my neck" lol... I clean and sanitize my tools after every single service, sometimes during the service as well. I make sure my barbercide jar is the clearest of blue as well. I used to post this barberside jar rant on IG and it would get a lot of feedback. My biggest pet peeve is a barbercide jar disgustingly full of hair, crammed with combs and a dirty straight razors hanging off the side, it would drive me nuts, lol..
4) After living and cutting in Southern California for so long, why did you leave and open a shop in Portland?
I moved and opened a barbershop in Portland for a better life. The pace of Portland is a lot slower than other cities I've called home, and that’s better for my sanity. The economy is booming here in Portland. Portland is a pretty big city but has a small town feel. I also knew with my work ethic and barbering style I could bring something special to Portland. There aren't a lot of "traditional barbershops" that look, feel and operate like Lyle’s. We are not just another barbershop. We’re a cornerstone to our local community, and we get thanked daily for opening in our neighborhood.
What is it about a smaller city that is better for your sanity?
The small city vibe is better for me. As I get older i don't like to be around a lot of people. In Portland there's less traffic, more parking, people are little more relaxed, there's a slower pace...I could go on and on.
5) Describe the mental roller coaster of moving to a new place and opening a new shop?
Man, the mental roller coaster is real, lol... upon moving to Portland I knew no one. I knew maybe 3 local barbers. I had to build Lyle’s by myself and the help of my wife and a couple childhood friends. When I opened I didn't have ANY clientele. The whole first month I was a sitting duck 7 days a week 10 hour days. Slowly but surely people started coming by and checking out the shop, then, thank goodness business started to take off.
What do you think lead to the increase in business?
I think we saw an increase in business because Portland doesn't have any shops like Lyle's or have many barbers carrying on the tradition like myself or Kris. Cruise around Portland sometime and see for yourself. Most of the "barbershops" look like salons or are run like salons. We focus on providing a traditional atmosphere and overall experience rather than giving beer and booze as an incentive. Things are changing around the world. Patrons are sick and tired of the gimmicks. They appreciate that we take pride in what we do and respect tradition. They want to feel like the barber gives a shit about them and the service we are providing. We don't do anything half ass at Lyle's. We not only wear smocks, we wear clean slacks and freshly shined shoes. We don't hide under hats or hoodies. We look our best because we take pride in the authenticity of being a BARBER! Even small details like music choice is carefully picked through out the day to set the ambiance and make everyone feel welcome.
6) Has the Portland barber community been supportive?
The barber community in Portland is very Supportive. Upon moving here, Rudy from Cowlick Barber Shop helped me out a lot with my licensing. The barber test in Oregon was not easy to pass. Once I was licensed, Sang from Throne let me work for him until I found space to open my own shop. So I’m grateful to have had that support. Now that I’m open, almost every week a local barber comes in for a cut, shave or to say hi and hangout. I like to say Lyle’s is your barber’s favorite barbershop. Barbers from all over the country have also made a point to come check us out on there visit to Portland.
7) Why do you run your shop the way you do?
In today's barber world I feel the barbershop has lost its roots and authenticity. 8 out of 10 barbershops around the world are looking more like a skate shop or tattoo shop. The barbers are dressed like they are headed to a music festival or something. Me, I was mentored by old ass barbers that had 40 to 50 years of barbering under their belt. So it was embedded into me how a barber should conduct himself, how his business should be run, how his haircut should be executed, how to show respect for the patron, and the most important part, how to provide the patron with best barber service possible. The patron should have the most positive experience possible. It’s making the patron feel at home upon there visit that makes them choose you. It’s not about how many tattoos you have. I could go on and on on this topic. But that’s just a couple of reasons I run Lyle's the way I do.
8) What do you get into outside of the shop?
Outside of work, I like to stay active and hangout with my wife and dog. As I get older my circle gets smaller. I enjoy cycling, riding my Harley, skateboarding, hiking, exploring Portland's food and bar scene.
9) Thoughts on the IG era of barbering?
My thoughts on the IG era of barbering: I LOVE IT?! lol ummm.. lets look at the bright side and then the down side. Some of the bright side, IG has opened the doors for so many barbers around the world. It’s connected so many barbers. IG has made it possible to be a successful barber without even owning or actually working in a barbershop. I personally know a handful of barbers that work out of their garage or private room or they just do house calls, lol.. It’s crazy to think that that's possible but with IG, it is. The downside we all know and see daily, barbers acting as if they are celebrities, or doing full on photo shoots after EVERY haircut, lol... its actually kinda sad seeing grown men/woman posting their every move, or selling there souls for a $7 can of pomade. I feel I'm lucky to have got into barbering before IG. It’s hard to explain, but before social media ONLY BARBERS WERE FUCK'N WITH BARBERING. Cosmos would never want to become barbers. Little Jimmy living with his mommy and daddy from the suburbs wasn't wanting to become a barber, there weren't any pomade or scissor salesmen, etc. But IG has opened the door to the barbershop without having to even step into a shop or talking with a old timer about the fundamentals of being a barber. So I feel IG has given a false reality of what being a barber is really about.
10) Where do you pull inspiration from inside/outside the barber industry?
I find inspiration in barbering from watching new and older barbers. I love seeing a brand new bright eyed bushy tailed barber cutting who respects the trade. They are always so excited and love what they are doing. The veterans are always inspiring to watch. I love going into an old ass barbershop that has an old ass barber in there, sit back with a bag of popcorn and a soda, and take it all in. Outside of the barber world I draw inspiration from the tattoo world, art world, and the service industry in general. We all have a very similar business model, we all work with the public, we all have to market ourselves. The more you work the more money you make, so I really like to keep an eye on how they are all moving in there own business worlds. You can learn so much if you sit back an listen. I'm still always learning.
11) Random thoughts on what you do…
Well, I feel we are all in this trade for the same reason to make money and have fun doing it. We go to work like every other job out there, but we are apart of something really special. Its hard to explain to people who have never set foot in a barbershop, but when you walk into a shop that's a well running machine, full of patrons, banter, talc in the air, bay rum spilling onto the floor, its a special thing. I'm so stoked that after 15 years of cutting hair I still have the passion and love for this trade. Barbering has given me so much, and that's why I try and do my part on keeping the authenticity of barbering going. We owe it to our forefathers that were standing behind the chair putting hair on the floor decades before we were even born. Whether you know it or not, all of us barbers make a huge impact on our patrons lives and our community. So show some fuckin respect to this trade got dammit!