Joe's Barbershop - Chicago

Joe’s Barbershop in Chicago is a rad place. And that’s a fact. Not an opinion. Maybe it’s the history or the general attitude of people in Chicago, but I really dig Joe’s. It’s got something special. Joe Jr. is an old school cat, so I loved hearing his brutally honest answers about what has happened in the shop since Papa Joe started it back in 1968. If you’re ever in town, be sure to stop in. You won’t regret it. I try to every time I’m up that way and he always takes care of me. Bastard got me rolling on a serious giardiniera habit that I can’t seem to shake though.

Follow the shop on Instagram @joesbarbershopchicago1 or on their website at www.joesbarbershopchicago.com

Click here to read the last Q&A with Steve Purcell; owner of Uppercut Deluxe.

Click here to check out the book.

Click here to check out my barbershop prints.

“You don't see plumbers wearing gold plated monkey wrenches around their necks…”

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1) What did you do before becoming a barber?

I have had my fair share of jobs in my 39 years on this planet. I have done everything from selling 18 Wheelers, to doing contract work for Harley Davidson corporate, to washing cars at a Lexus bodyshop. Most of my "career" could fall into the marketing / advertising world I guess you could say. Not going to college for a piece of paper always got me in the door at the lowest level, and then having to prove to upper management that I wasn't a complete piece of shit I would rapidly move up the ranks. I hate corporate America for the record. 

You sold 18 Wheelers???? How did your random jobs prior to Joe's translate or help what you do now?

Indeed I did. At the ripe age of 23 I handled the largest fleet accounts for a local freightliner dealer pretty much next to O'Hare airport.

It wasn't a bad gig, but it was more a career then a "job" so to speak. You cant just start in a job like that and expect to make any money. The older guys I worked with had been their 10-15-25 years and due to that were making a very nice living. 

My list of random jobs before I started in the barbershop has definitely helped me for sure. I always say I am glad I did have other jobs before starting in the shop with my dad, rather then just going right from high school to the shop. I have had both cool and asshole bosses, had to work holidays, had to miss events and such because I had to work, etc. Plus even today I consider myself a shop barber first, then an owner. I would never expect or want something out of my barbers that I wouldn't want to do myself (if that makes sense). 

2) Your old man started Joe's in 68'. Did he encourage you to follow in his footsteps? 

He didn't. If anything he told me to "stay away" from barbering all together. Just like his father (who was also a barber) told him not to get involved in the trade. All I heard growing up was , "use your head not your body" and " don't deal with the public" but here I am working in the shop. My father started teaching me to cut hair when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. One day an old Paidar barber chair ended up in our small 1 1/2 car garage. I didn't think anything about it because weird shit was always showing up on my pops garage (usually to be sold in the barbershop as back then it was more stolen merchandise trading post then barbershop). But no, that chair was there for a reason ! So for the next year or so every other Sunday before I was allowed to do anything I might have wanted to do I had to give my pops a haircut and a shave. Each time he would change it up on me, as last time I gave him a #3 on the sides with alittle off the top, and now this time he wanted a full cut done with shears left full in the back. Not knowing then what he was doing I thought he was just being difficult (which he still does very well at 72 years old), but now as I'm abit older I realize he was showing me different ways to cut hair. For the next few years I would cut my neighbors hair, friends, relatives over for holidays and such, etc. I bought my first car (a 1985 Toyota Supra) off the money I made doing garage haircuts.

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3) What was the transition like when you started there and later convinced him to expand the shop? 

My father didn't want me to get into barbering, let alone work next to him in the then small / 250sq.ft. shop that he had called home / sanctuary away from his family since 1968. So after getting some of his family and my mom to talk to him he agreed. I graduated barber college and started full time @ Joe's in September of 2010 and literally could do nothing right (still cant in his eyes). At that time it was a two chair shop and with abit of effort and using what social media was around then we started to get busier. About 6 months in I started telling him we needed to clean up the shop abit and add a third chair (which we could barely fit). Of course this was answered with a no and a shaking of the little mans head. How could it be a good idea if his son was the one who thought it up? So after a few months of fighting he finally let me add the third chair. After hiring on a third barber it wasn't even a week before that third chair was part of the shop and we could of used a 4th. This was also around the time that our part of Chicago aka Logan Square was going through a change for the better aka "gentrification" if you wanna go down that road, so allot of young dudes were moving into the area around the shop and needing a good haircut. Fast Forward to 2013 and the shop had become a monster. We were winning every sorta social media "award", mentions in national publications, being used for tv and movie shoots, etc. Open 6 days a week with 5 barbers working 3 chairs (in rotation) six days a week averaging a 2 hour wait everyday. We extended our hours and just got busier. We raised our prices and just got busier. Sounds good on paper but was hell working in the shop back in those days. So after another year or so of fighting and bitching with the small man I finally convinced him to let me knock out the back 2 bedroom apartment and expand the barbershop to its current size. The conversation went like this:

“Dad, we need to expand the shop.

No

Dad, we are losing 20-30 customers a day due to them not wanting to wait. We need more barbers and more room. 

No

Dad, Those 20-30 people leaving could be taken care of by the addition of more barbers. We need to expand. 

No

Dad, I worked with some banks and I will pay for the expansion out of my pocket.

OK, Do it..”

So basically when I told him I wasn't needing or asking him to cough up any money to expand the place he was cool with it. Typical old man Italian. So a rough timeline is the shop was opened in 1968. I started in 2010. Added a third chair in 2013. Expanded the shop to its current 1400sq.ft / 7 chair size in 2015. I officially took over ownership of the building and the barbershop in February of 2015. 

4) You're both characters and seem like pretty hard headed guys. Describe your relationship in the shop. How has it changed over the years?

This is a easy one. My father and I have NEVER got along. Not when I was little. Not when I was just starting off in the shop. Not as I write this. Not sure if its because we are too much alike? Are both super hard headed? Who knows. It is literally his way or nothing when it comes to me, and just me. He is not that way with his customers. He is not that way with my older sister. It is literally his attitude towards me and only me. Flash back to 2013 when the shop was insanely busy and I remember him and I got into it on a Friday night after the shop had just closed. I remember sitting him down in his chair and me sitting across from him and saying and I quote, "Dad, I can not work with you anymore. So, you are either going to retire, we are going to expand this shop so I can get alittle bit of distance between you and I, or I am going to drown you in the toilet by your size 6 feet." The expansion started to gain steam about a week after that. Fast forward to present day and my 72 year old father is still working four 10-12 hour days a week and is more feisty and up my ass then ever before. Him still working is really why I have the schedule I have . Working just 4 days a week in the shop and only working 2 days with him. Two too many...

How does your old man feel about where the shop is today? 

My father is the definition of " old school". He doesn't show emotion, and is definitely not going to give me any sort of praise for what I have done to / for the shop. It's just how he is so it really doesn't bother me. I have seen him be that way since I can remember. The proof is in the business the shop is doing, the amount of haircuts we complete every day, the amount of repeat business we have, and so on. That's how I measure success, not Instagram followers or how many t-shirts the shop sells. Hell, I give more shirts away then I sell. I am not one to hype myself up online, post pictures of haircuts, pictures of famous shop customers, or any of that crap you cant help but see online. The shop itself and what it is/has become is all the "creditation" I myself need. A smooth running shop with good barbers and good customers is all I can ask for, and I bust my ass to maintain that. 

5) Joe's is as I see it, a Chicago institution….

Tough question. I see it kinda in two ways. 1. Yes, 50 years, family business, son taking over from his father and expanding/growing business, etc.

2. No, Its a barbershop that has stuck around because the owner may or may not have been to stubborn to close it down / move it when the neighborhood turned into a ghetto in the late 90's. By just plain luck the neighborhood that the shop is in now is "booming". Barbering is stronger now then ever before. So, I am always torn when thinking of the shop as a "institution", guess it just depends on who I talk to. I can tell you one thing, barbers as of late could care less if the shop they work in has been around for 50 years or 5. As long as their Instagram accounts are popping and they are making $$$. The days of opening up a shop with say 2 dudes and having that crew around for the duration of the shop is long gone. So to answer the question Yes, Joe's is something special. And, no matter who does or doesn't work in the shop the shop itself will continue to carry on through the years.  

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6) How do you manage a shop of 7 barbers? What do you expect out of them? 

Out of all the jobs / tasks I have had in my life up to this point the managing of people / being a boss has been the hardest. I work in my shop alongside my barbers so I try and make the shop / environment a place where I myself would want to work (as I do work there). From the expansion and more room to what's on the walls to the music being played to how well the shop is cleaned (which I do myself). Do I hang out with my barbers outside of work ? Do I not because I don't want to be seen as their "friend" but as their " boss" ? Do I play the roll of " cool boss" and let everything I don't like slide ? Do I play the roll of "stern boss" and sit down with them once a week and tell them what they are doing wrong ? Either way or direction has its good and bad sides to it. I have lost barbers due to things out my control, like how my father acts. I have lost barbers due to the shop down the street offering them 5% more per cut. I have lost barbers due to my "attitude" which is really just how I am. I have lost barbers who wanted to work in an appointment shop because that's what the cool Insta-Babers are doing now a days. So I really cant win. I have paid certain barbers more thinking they would stay working in the shop and they left. I have given certain barbers more leeway in coming in late / leaving early to try and keep them around and they have left. So now my approach is kinda the straight and to the point kinda thing. 1. This is the shop and this is how it's ran. 2. This is what your going to get paid per haircut and that's not going to change. 3. You have a job here for life if you want it. 4. If I happen to have a issue with your performance in the barbershop YOU will be the first to know. I would say that this method has been going well but I lost a barber about 3 months ago and will prob loose another by summer (have a gut feeling which I am usually not wrong about).So, if that does happen we do what we always do, keep chugging on. Everything in the shop has always evened out in the end.  

7) Joe's is everything I love about a barbershop. There is a lot of comedy and you want people to have fun, but you also don't want any bullshit fuckery. Talk about that. 

I do run the barbershop with a heavy hand, and I am well aware that some people don't "get" it and take it the wrong way. As I am an asshole or think I am the shit or whatever. I even made a website called " the dirty" a few years back (its still up there - just do a google search of my name) where an old customer of mine (yes I know who he is) posted a pic and article of me slamming me for being a "tough guy" with a crappy beard. Do I care that he did that ? No, and kinda take it with a smile that I got under his skin that bad for him to take his time and write that. Same as I feel about YELP reviews that say things like the haircut was great and the shop is cool but I was told to hang up my jacket and wont go back, 1 star. Atleast the haircut came out ok is what I think to myself when reading those kinda things. As said before I try and run the shop as I would want it to be as if it was a place I went to get my haircut. I don't want to see a bunch of peoples jackets thrown on the waiting chairs when we have a perfectly good coat rack. It looks sloppy and takes up chairs for waiting customers. I harp on my barbers to tell their customers to hang up their jackets but sometimes they just don't do it. People talking on their phones, people with the legs stretched out so people have to walk over them, guys wearing sunglasses inside the shop, people who waste beers, people who think the floor is a good spot to put their full cup of coffee, Men in flip flops complaining about that hair got on their feet, men in flip flops in general, etc. All things that drive me up a wall and you better bet people are going to hear about in my shop with my name in neon on it !

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My first time in the shop I was wearing flip-flops and took some shit for it. I’ll definitely be leaving a bad Yelp review…

8) What do you get into outside of the shop?

I really never am "off" from the shop. No matter how much I try it is part of me. I mean I live upstairs ! But in reality I do more for the actual running of the shop on my days off then when I am behind the chair. Weather it be updating the website, social media whatever, lunch meetings with people about say a photoshoot in the shop, etc. This is what barbers don't see, the behind the scenes stuff that a good owner does to keep his shop afloat and floating higher then the other shops in the area. Sixty8 Provisional is a small male grooming product company I started back in 2014 which takes some of my time. Everything from product formulation to marketing to sales to fulfillment is all handled by yours truly. We sell it here at the shop, as well as 5-10 other barbershops and retail stores across the US. If it grows cool, if not its something to do which only compliments the barbershop in which it was created in. Sixty8 = the year my dad started Joe's. Also have two other "start-ups" that are in their infant stages that should do pretty well once their up and going. I have smaller roles in those so hopefully alittle effort up front can gain me some added income which would be nice. Besides the above I am into hot rods and classic cars, motorcycles, black haired tattooed women in heels, good food and booze with good company, etc. I have always said I can sleep when im dead.. 

9) Random thoughts about what you do....

I am a barber. Barbering is a trade like being an electrician or a plumber. Barbering is the oldest legal profession in the world. Barbering has put food on families plates, sent kids to college, paid for houses, cars, and so on for years. And yes of course I take what I do and my trade seriously and with respect. But, I can’t get a date to save my life on these online dating apps because when a woman see's "barber" as a profession It might as well say "doesn't make any money" to her. I love it when a customer in my chair asks, " so what else do you do to make ends meat ?" Or, " you cant really live of a barbers salary right?" . Believe me their is nothing better then rolling up to Chicago Cut (one of the best steakhouses in Chicago) in my 55 Bel-Air and some snobby older guy asks what I do for a living and tell him I am a barber. Just to watch his face go into some weird questioning look. Then you have these Insta-Barbers wearing gold barber poles around their neck and surgical masks doing backflips into crowds at barber conventions. I don't get it, but to each their own I guess. You don't see plumbers wearing gold plated monkey wrenches around their necks. Or electricians walking around with attitudes because of what they do. All trades, but barbering has something weird about it. I try and let the shop itself do the talking, rather then me myself posting every haircut I do in the shop. You don't see "Joe Jr. " stickers and t-shirts being produced but we make 20,000 Joe's Barbershop stickers a year to slap all over the world and have been since I started back in 2010. The shop is what's special, I am just it's care taker..

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10) Best pie in the city? 

No one in Chicago calls it "pie" so I'm guessing you’re talking about Pizza ? I like all kinds of pizza so I have a few different spots for each style of "pie" as you put it. 

Deep dish = Peaquads  (Lincoln Park, Chicago) for sure. Thin crust Italian style = Gigio's in the burbs (Des Plaines, IL).  Thin crust square cut or "tavern style" = John's Pizzeria (Logan Square, Chicago). Napoli style = Pizza Metro (Wicker Park, Chicago).