If we’re being honest, I’ve lived my whole life under the assumption that Cleveland is a complete shithole. Have probably passed it on the road 20 times for that very reason. Was out there a few weeks ago for a commercial shoot and was not only pleasantly surprised, but felt like an idiot for those assumptions. It might be one of the cleanest “cities” in America. It’s hardly big enough to classify as a city like New York or Chicago, but damn it is clean. Shockingly so. Any time I’m in a place for a commercial shoot I make it a point to get out and do some shooting for myself as well. It’s a great way to relax and learn more about the place you’re in. After a couple hours of walking around, my opinion was completely changed. Also noticed immediately that the people there are incredibly nice. Like, go out their way for you nice. It just felt like a very hospitable place. Cheers to you, Cleveland.
In the past selling prints hasn’t been a huge part of my business, but the requests have certainly started to grow. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a feature on my website in place that allows people to just hop on and order whatever image/size/medium they please, which really hindered the process. So I’m very happy to announce that this feature is now available. Just go to the link below and you can choose from any image listed and order just about any size print, canvas, metal, or wood print that you’d like. And if there is a specific image you’d like that isn’t listed, just reach out to me directly and I’ll get it up there for you.
Way back in 2012-ish I met the Nefarious Dr. Pugsly at his original shop in Kingston, NY. No remembrance of how we came in contact or how I ended up at his shop, but glad I did. He’s an interesting cat and his place was the first of the “next generation” shops I came across where you could feel an immense amount of pride and a very high bar for service. His cuts are next level and it’s obvious that he wants his shop to reflect that. Since our first meeting, a lot has happened with him, including a second “sideshow” shop (featured below) not far from the original. During the final push for the last book I of course wanted to include his new shop, but the only time I had to photograph it on my trip cross country was Christmas Eve. He graciously took time out of his schedule to open up and even more graciously gave me a beard trim. Thank you, Dr. !
Give him a follow on IG @pugsly_dude or check out his website www.pugslysbarbershop.com
“This is a trade. It’s not a fashion show, it’s not politics”
1) Where are you from and what did you do before barbering?
So, I'm born and raised here in Kingston. I had the opportunity to spend some pretty personal time with most of our country traveling and playing music really early on. As far as formal work, I made most of my living around cars. I worked in a pretty standard repair shop for a while. Learned a lot. Basic car knowledge. Eventually found my way into car audio and custom installs. There, the crew had pretty free run of the shop. We all built a ton of rad stuff there! Lastly i found myself in a local Kustom shop. I'll always be grateful for that opportunity, the friends and lessons I took from that time. I fell in love with metal flake, fancy cast parts, and I received the nickname Pugsly.
What is the meaning behind Pugsly?
Pugsly was just a nickname I picked up in a small circle that spread a bit, for a min there. Sounded fun for a shop name... kind of low browy? Either way, that's why Pugsly!
What did you take from building cars that carried on to being a barber?
Man, I worked in a garage with a group of my best dudes for years where we did audio by day and by night we had full range. We built some crazy stuff in that place! But we had some pretty gnarly work ethic. You've never seen more organized boxes and work areas. We got really, really involved in our install work. I think I learned a standard there that I took with me.
2) You have 2 beautiful shops that I would say are on a different level from most. Can you talk about your process of putting them together? How does it start and how far are they from the original idea/concept?
I built my first shop in last few months of 2007. At that time I was watching only a few different shops from the side lines. A couple of which were Lefty's, obviously out of San Diego via MySpace, and Robs Chop Shop out of Dallas who I had met and known personally through the car community. I was just trying to set up a very traditional, walk-in, gentleman's style environment. What I felt to be a 1940's style barbershop visually but my main focus was the product. Both the cut and experience riding the same level of importance. I pretty quickly established as diverse of a clientele as I had hoped. As time progressed minor, natural adjustment took place but for the most part Pugslys remains what it set out to be.
The main problem I found with the original business model was the wait time. I was noticing negative trends concerning client retention. That sparked the idea for shop number two. Pugsly's SideShow was the solution. A small "SideShow" of a location that would except appointments only. With a little bit of a tongue in cheek approach in coordination with the name, the decor took a little bit more of a funky approach. It might be a little bit more representative of me personally. The only thing I've seen changing and fairly rapidly with business model number 2 is the fact that SideShow started as a "small offshoot" but is quickly growing to the size of the original shop with the popularity of the more modern appointment set up. To be considered moving forward for sure.
You seem like a fairly obsessive person? And I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Quite positive actually. Can you talk about how that translates into your shops and your cuts?
So thanks? No, I think that's fair and I think that it helps with consistency and some organization within the shops. As far as the cuts and work ethic, I think our crew shares the same thing that the boys from Burts garage did. We feed off of each other. Push each other's standards a little. So it's good. I know we all get pretty nerdy about our haircuts sometimes.
3) Are there any specific factors that you can pinpoint which have lead to your success as a barber?
I try to be cool to the people that make it possible to pay my bills. I'm hyper focused on giving the best product that I can start to finish. I feel very fortunate to be wired in a manor that I take pride in what I do. I think you have to really believe in what your doing if other people are going to believe what your doing.
4) You have a great reputation for giving beautiful haircuts, but live in what a lot of people would consider a "small market". Kingston isn't in NYC, but it's also not really upstate. Can you talk about your decision to stay in Kingston as opposed to moving to NYC or LA or any other big market?
I just wanted to open a barbershop. Every town needs one and my town NEEDED one. The little Hudson valley city that I grew up in was still moving pretty good when I was a kid and until the boom we've experienced in the past decade, I'm not sure how much I noticed the down time we went through. I've benefited from it, established a clientele I couldn't have predicted, but I guess I was just doing what I knew at the time.
Would you ever consider leaving Kingston?
Absolutely... We considerate it all the time. Just not sure what really gets better then this at the moment. We got family, a cool crib, good people, the Hudson valley itself is just a rad place... it's hard to justify a move, right now anyway.
5) What kind of things do you see barbers today doing wrong?
This is a trade. It's not a fashion show, it's not politics.
6) What do you do outside of the shop? Hobbies? Obsessions?
I'm a husband and a proud father. I love cars and motorbikes. I really like paint. I play music. Vacation state of mind.
7) Where do you see yourself in 5/10/25 years?
Cutting hair. I couldn't have imagined almost 11 years ago that I'd have the support or clientele, established the relationships, or the crew that holds this whole project together. No matter where it goes from here I want to be cutting hair. I feel like that means slowing down sometimes.
8) Thoughts on the IG age of barbering?
I've made so many friends, pulled so much inspiration, and traveled both domestically and internationally on behalf of my family from Australia, Uppercut Deluxe. All opportunities presented to me through IG. All though, I feel like I've seen some people loose balance a little when it comes to what really makes their world go around.
9) Can you think of any major screw-up or failures in your life that ended up leading to something great?
I mean, I guess high school was tough for me. Not that I couldn't do it, I just didn't want to and they didn't keep my interest. But I did invest myself in other things, some real deal collage at one point even, and one of them ended up being barbering. I'm pretty happy about that.
10) Any barbers/shops out there that you look up to?
Yeah! A lot of them! I don't even want to rattle off names because I'm afraid to miss someone super important... I have been in so many shops. I've taken so many things, inspirations, ethics, personality, from so many shops... it would be a big list. But my big brother shop is Robs chop Shop in Dallas. That's the guy that popped the bubble, made me think... I should just go to barber school already.
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
“You don't see plumbers wearing gold plated monkey wrenches around their necks…”
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.
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.
Dad, we are losing 20-30 customers a day due to them not wanting to wait. We need more barbers and more room.
Dad, Those 20-30 people leaving could be taken care of by the addition of more barbers. We need to expand.
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.
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 !
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..
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).
I’ve lost track of what number Q&A this is, but that’s probably irrelevant. This go round is with Justin King of Rooks Barbershop in Portland, Oregon. We met a bit of over a year ago when I made these images. The thing that stands out to me about Justin is that he’s every bit a business man as he is a barber. Maybe even more so a business man, which isn’t common to see in the barbershop world. He’s got a lot of irons in a lot of fires. Good dude and I appreciate his willingness to say what he feels regardless of the outcome.
Follow him on Instagram @hellandgrace and the shops @rooksbarbershop
“In the Army, I’d bring dudes into the barracks and fade them out for a few bucks here and there”
1) Where are you from and what did you do before barbering?
I was born in NY and grew up in Miami. Before becoming a barber, I was a paratrooper in the US Army.
Did any of your experience as a paratrooper carry over into the barber world? Where did you get your business sense from?
I think my military experience definitely gave me a good foundation to work off of. It imbued in me a very strong work ethic; an ability to just “get it done”, no matter what. Pair that with an aggressive east coast mentality and you’ve got a recipe for success.
2) What put you into this profession?
Ever since high school, I wanted to cut hair. Growing up as a punk rock kid in the ‘80s, I was always the one cutting and coloring everyone’s hair. I’ve always been good with a pair of clippers.
In the Army, I’d bring dudes into the barracks and fade them out for a few bucks here and there, and when I got out, I decided to take it to a professional level.
3) You're very political with your thoughts and posts on IG, which is something you don't see a lot of barbers doing. Talk about that a bit...
I believe in using whatever resources are at your disposal to affect change in the world. My business is my primary resource and, in this day and age, it’s important that we speak our against injustice, bigotry, racism, etc. They always told me when I became a barber, “never talk politics or religion on the floor”, but fuck that. I’ve never been one to not speak my mind and if customers don’t like it, there are a lot of shops out there adhere to that ‘rule’. Personally, I believe Rooks built its reputation by being real, and I encourage my barbers to be who they are.
What have been the positive/negative outcomes of your public opinions?
I’ve lost customers over my public political opinions. I guess you could say that’s a negative. I don’t think it is. I’ve had people “boycott” my bar and other businesses of mine, but I just think they’re funny. You can’t boycott somewhere you’re not welcome.
4) When did the first Rooks open? How were you able to take Rooks from one shop in Portland to having 3 there as well as another in Hood River?
The first Rooks opened at the beginning of 2009 as a one-chair shop in a little shed attached to a pizza joint. I had worked as a barber for a few years at another shop in town and had built up a large clientele. I took a big chance, opening up Rooks a half hour away and was fortunate enough to have a lot of clients follow me. The barbering scene hadn’t really hit yet, so nothing like this was happening in Portland. I was the first shop to offer straight razor shaves and booze, and my shop gained recognition pretty quickly. After a couple years at that one-chair shop, I moved a few blocks up the road and opened a three-chair, bringing a couple quality barbers onboard from out of town. I had to hire barbers from California because there were hardly any in Portland. A year later, I added two more chairs. By then, our little shop was constantly busy and we had some really solid barbers. So, a year after that, I decided to try a second shop across town to cater to a larger clientele. A third one went in right in the heart of downtown Portland a couple years after that and the rest is history. We had become a Portland institution and a nationally-known name. The fourth shop opened up a couple years later but, unfortunately, was lost in a building fire. We quickly recovered and expanded to Hood River, Oregon just a year and a half ago, and that’s now our busiest location.
What went through your head when the fire hit?
My first concern was relocating my barbers so that they’d still have work. I can deal with a little financial blow like that but I didn’t want my barbers to feel that burden. I also immediately began thinking of the way forward. A couple barbers wanted to start a Go Fund Me campaign to help me recoup some of the financial loss but I wasn’t having it. It was my problem to deal with, not everyone else’s. I had to view the experience as an opportunity to grow in a different direction and, ultimately, it enabled me to put time and energy into opening up Hood River.
5) How do you manage all those shops/barbers?
No, but seriously...I put a lot of stock in my barbers and give them ownership in their shops. My barbers are free to be who they are, manage their own clients, handle their own money, schedule their own breaks, etc. I think the key to a successful shop is keeping your barbers happy. I refuse to treat mine like children. They didn’t pay $20k for barber school to be bossed around and make shit pay.
6) What do you get into outside the shop? Hobbies, obsessions, etc.
Business IS my hobby/obsession. I love creating something, building a brand, getting my hands dirty with the buildout process, etc. Outside of Rooks, I also own a pomade brand, a bar and a motorcycle shop. I create businesses based on my hobbies, so I’m never really working; just doing stuff I like.
7) Notable life fuck-up that ended up being a great learning tool?
Hmmm....I think all fuck-ups should be used as learning tools.
I tried many businesses over the years before opening Rooks, to no avail. Each time was a valuable lesson; how not to waste money, who not to partner with, etc.
I fucked up a lot in my life, but I wouldn’t have been in the exact place I am if I hadn’t.
8) Advice for someone who wants to take that first step from being a barber to opening their own shop?
Every endeavor requires risk. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take those risks. It’s scary. Putting money down on a lease, going in without really knowing what the outcome will be..it’s serious, and it’ll fuck with your head. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly. Your business has to be your entire identity, at least in the beginning. Brands don’t build themselves. Don’t be in too much of a rush. Wait until you’ve got several years of experience and a large customer base. Try not to take a loan out, even if it’s from family. You don’t want to start up already in a bunch of debt. Choose your partners wisely and, if possible, don’t have one. Certainly don’t have more than one or you’ll never make money.Make sure you know your brand, but be willing to adapt and progress. Rooks isn’t the same brand that it was when I started and we’re better for it.
Always be true to yourself and don’t compromise.
Respect your barbers. They’re your most valuable commodity.
And DON’T BE COMPETITIVE. Support other shops and keep open communication with them.
9) Random thoughts on what you do....
I love what I do. Opening Rooks has been the best thing I’ve done for myself and my children.
That doesn’t mean starting a business is the best move for everyone. Some people won’t function in that position, others will flourish.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just as honorable to put in an honest days work as it is to be an entrepreneur.
Good luck in whatever you do!
Is the barbering community in Portland supportive?
If I’m being honest...no, I don’t believe it is.
It’s getting there, for sure. But, there are still a lot of shop owners who view each other as competition, and that’s absolutely the wrong mindset to be in.
Portland is saturated with barbershops and could benefit from a stronger sense of community.
Golden Crown Barbershop is located in Laguna Nigel, CA and it’s fearless leader; Cory Danger is the subject of today’s Q&A. Over the years I’ve had a few interactions with Mr. Danger (who looks quite royal in the first image below), and if I was forced to use one word to describe him it would have to be jolly. He always seems to have a smile on his face. There is even something happy about the way he walks, which all makes sense after hearing what he had to say. I’m a huge fan of his answers because they really come from him and they are all very positive as well as informative. A lot of people are afraid to be outwardly honest and positive in settings such as a barbershop, so this stuff is cool to hear.
You can follow Mr. Danger on Instagram @goldencrowncory and the shop at @goldencrownbarbershop. Or at their website www.goldencrownbarbershop.com.
“I try and give my guys a strong sense of self worth and ask them to conduct themselves appropriately. It’s very much a mutual respect.”
1) Where are you from and what did you do before becoming a barber?
I live in South Orange County California. Been here most my life. Before I was a barber I bounced around jobs. I’ve always worked since I was about 13. My mom started her insurance business in our home and I was her shipping department. I remember when I was 15 I asked for a phone in my room and the next day there was a fax machine and a box of fax paper rolls. I had to deliver her faxes whenever they came in and couldn’t use the phone during business hours. So it was all mine after 5 and weekends!
How do you think that experience translated into what you do now?
Its created a priceless value on work. It doesn’t matter how small or large the work load is I do something everyday. It’s like a steam powered engine, the fire must always be burning to keep the train moving.
2) Your shop(s) have a unique feel. Can you talk about the thought process of building them and why/how you run them the way you do?
I worked in a few different shops before opening my own, 5 to be exact. I built the stations with every comfort I ever wanted. I believe today it’s known as ergonomic. The counter is 42” high so I don’t have to bend to get my tools. Each station has a sink, lather machine, paper towels, trash can, register, air hose and plenty of power. We share a hot towel cabi. That was the center of my universe, the rest is just to look cool. More for the customers to have something to look at then me. As far as the way I run my shops I consciously made the decision to take everything I didn’t like about people I worked for and do the opposite. I also put a lot of value on a barber being an independent contractor. I try and give my guys a strong sense of self worth and ask them to conduct themselves appropriately. It’s very much a mutual respect.
3) As the owner of 2 (soon to be 3) shops, you’re the “boss” of a lot of barbers. Can you talk about what that’s like and how you handle all the different personalities while still keeping the culture the way you want it to be?
I lean heavy on that independent contractor ideal that I mentioned. I have a set of standards I expect and within those parameters you’re free to be whoever you want. My crew has helped me develop a very good system of self regulating. Being a walk in only shop if one barber isn’t in sync with the rest it can damage the whole operation. I’ve got a couple of guys that are managers and do a good job putting out fires before they catch my attention. I hate to be cliché saying we’re a family but we are a very bonded group of guys and our loyalty to the shop is greater then an individual. I’m only the “Boss” when I absolutely have to be.
4) What is the thing that sticks out to you that separates good barbers from great barbers?
Customer service. We are in the service industry and that should be the first thing every barber learns. Leave your shit at the door, it’s all about the person in the chair, not you.
5) What’s going through your head as you’re about to open the 3rd shop?
Pure excitement. Each time I open a shop I leave the previous one and work full time at the new one. I get to experience being a new shop owner again while simultaneously being a seasoned shop owner.
What are the biggest roadblocks or hassles with opening a new shop?
At this moment it’s the city and permits. Every city has different rules and regs and if you miss one box that you need to check off the form it could push the whole build out back 2 weeks. Lots of I’s to be crossed and T’s to be dotted.
6) When you stop and think about being a barber, what makes you feel the best?
The immediate connection I have with generations before me. I can meet a 75 year old barber and within minutes share stories, frustrations, proud moments or whatever it is and be connected. A brother in arms if you will.
One of the most obvious differences between the old timers and your class is first impressions.Most guys now are covered in tattoos, so I’m wondering how the old timers normally react when you introduce yourself as a barber?
When I was younger it was definitely met with a guarded response. It almost seemed to start as an interview of sorts more then a conversation until I answered enough questions correctly. I’ve been a licensed barber for 12 years now, there’s no more vetting process. I can definitely say I’m guilty of carrying on that tradition of an interview introduction as well though.
7) What do you get into outside of the shop? Hobbies, obsessions, collections, etc.
I’m a single dad and I have a two boys that take all my attention when not working. I think now is a good time to say I don’t just cut hair and own barber shops either. I co-produce the MusInk Tattoo Convention & Music Festival here in Orange County as well as have several festivals I provide pop-up barber shops at. I’ve recently started an in house barber program for some action sports companies in the area as well. What I’m saying is my hobby and obsession is barbering and applying it to as many different avenues as possible. As far as collections go I collect old barber equipment and good times.
I’m sorry, did you say that you collect good times?
Hell yeah man! I’m all about making memories and sharing experiences with friends and family. Forget a bucket list it should be a to do list.
8) Where do you find inspiration within/outside the barber industry?
Entrepreneurs, rags to riches stories, the struggle! I love to learn about personal growth. I’m a biography fiend. Books, documentaries, podcasts, anything really. Real life happenings you know.
Within my world of barbering I don’t find inspiration, I find more comfort. I like the history of the trade. I used to joke that the last major breakthrough in barbering is when our tools became electric.
Are there a couple you’d really recommend?
Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table is an awesome documentary about a legendary restaurateur and New Orleans Icon. Petty: The Biography is the last book I read about Tom Petty and his life. Mike Rowe has a podcast called The Way I heard it. He does incredible 10 - 15 minute stories about all types of people through out history and reveals who it is at the very end. I think he's up to 100 episodes now, my kids and I like to listen to them while we're driving.
9) Advice for someone trying to open their owns shop?
Don’t. Unless your city doesn’t have a good barber shop. If it has a couple shops already go to the one you can devote yourself too. That has a crew of guys you can celebrate and commiserate with. I’m guilty of stepping on toes with my shops but I’ve also had my toes stepped on a lot! Thankfully where I am it’s so over populated everyone can eat.
10) Random thoughts on what you do….
Here’s some advice for anyone that’s been licensed for 5 years or less;
Barbering has never been more popular and profitable then it is right now. Find an old guy and listen to what he has to say. Don’t fuck this up for the rest of us!
11) What is your biggest career/life failure that has in turn caused you to change in a positive way?
I've had failures in life and career but they've never been negative. Positivity is a mind set that takes constant practice and application. For example, I had a barber supply and men's grooming shop for almost 3 years that I closed down. It was a conscience and calculated closure that taught me more then I could have ever imagined. I lost money, owed money, had to shut down a website, liquidate fixtures and product fast and way below what I paid for it. Then I had to explain to customers and friends and family over the next year why I closed it, constantly talking about my "failure." I chose to see the positive through the whole process. I gained new business experiences and lessons that the barber shop could never provide. Now I can take that knowledge and apply it to the barber shop and other business opportunities that come up. Constant practice and application.
Great stuff, Mr. Danger. Thank you.
Just got out of a week in the woods, so I'm a bit late on this post to make it effective at all, but still wanted to talk about it. The San Diego Union Tribune asked me to talk about my barbershop book at the San Diego Festival of Books this past weekend at Liberty Station. Truthfully, until they reached out I didn't even know the festival existed, and wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out great though. All of the panels were in private rooms with about 60 chairs, and every one was sold. I was on the panel with another photographer and the discussion was moderated by a woman from the Tribune. She had some great questions, as did the audience. So all in all it was a fun experience and I hope to do something similar again in the future.
8,141 American miles are in the books. If you made me choose, this is probably the thing I love doing the most with a camera. It's all fun, but this is really the tops for me. Just being out on my own for weeks at a time can't be beat. Every trip is different and great in it's own way. This one started off a bit rocky. Not long before leaving, I had some work done on my truck which I assumed was all set. Then, a couple days into the drive, the engine started screaming while going up Monarch Pass in Colorado. Keep in mind that this is practically a brand new truck. So I pulled over and opened the hood only to see that the coolant was actively boiling. I was supposed to be meeting a buddy at Denver airport the next morning and then on to our mutual friends house to surprise him for his birthday. It was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I let the engine cool down then put it in neutral and coasted as far down the mountain as I could to try and get some cell service. After trying for an hour I was finally able to reach a tow truck driver. He came and got us (Mojo) and dropped us off at the garage, which of course was closed until the next day. Threw a couple bags on my back and we schlepped it to a hotel about a mile+ away. The only hotel that would allow Mojo had no air conditioning to combat the brutally hot summer temperatures. Oh well. Next morning we schlepped back up the hill to the garage. Owner said he wasn't sure what the problem could be, but would take a look ASAP. That ASAP was about 3 hours, so Mojo and I walked into the woods(the only place we could sit down and be out of the sun) and read a book. Garage ordered the part they thought would fix the problem, but it wouldn't be there until about 3:30 and they close at 5. This was a Friday and they don't open again until Monday. Now I was faced with the real possibility of the truck not being fixed until the following week. So I started looking into rental cars. The only option was a local guy who had a few vehicles to rent, but when I started filling out the paperwork I realized that his vehicles aren't aloud to go more than 150 miles away from town. Next. There was one car left in a town that would require $115 cab ride, and the rental fee was going to be $400 for 3 days. Plus I would have to drive 6 hours southwest to Pagosa Springs to return it, when I needed to be continuing on northeast to my final destination (Cape Cod). Tried arguing with RAM to give me a loaner vehicle for a couple days, but that didn't work. The customer service woman called back twenty minutes later and said she was able to get me a rental in Durango under their very reasonable corporate rate. So I took the $115 cab ride and got the rental, figuring that 3 nights of hotels staying in town waiting would be costly anyway. Picked up the car, then went back to the garage to grab all my stuff, only to find out that the truck had been fixed. Now I had a fixed truck and a rental car. Screw it, I left the rental at the garage and hoped that the rental company could come pick it up on Monday. Turns out the 0-ring on the cap for the coolant reservoir was bad so the coolant was leaking out the whole time I was driving. And it got low to the point of not being able to cool the engine and just when through the roof while going up Monarch Pass. A tiny piece that probably costs 2 cents to make caused that much trouble. Unreal. Things really sucked for about 20 hours, but I made it up to Denver on Saturday morning and we were still able to surprise my buddy. Looking back now, I can't even believe that was part of the same trip as all the images below. It's funny how things start melting together on the road. You're so stimulated by everything you see that it's hard to make sense of it until you get home and let it all digest for a while. Love the road. Can't wait to get back out there.
Side note: It seems that on every trip there is one state that treats you better then all the rest. Not sure why it is, but photographically things tend to gel in one state the most. It's a different state every time, but it always happen. On this trip, I believe that state was Illinois. Cheers Illinois!
I'm of the completely biased opinion that San Diego is the best place to live in America. Not that it's a stretch, but it's still biased. One of the things that comes along with living in such a beautiful place is tons of year round visitors who all seem to make the same pictures. Let's be honest, San Diego is a really easy place to photograph. Go to just about any landscape gallery in the country and you're sure to see a big framed image of Antelope Canyon (AZ), Horseshoe Bend(AZ), and Scripps Pier among many other overly shot landmarks. A long time ago I realized that I have almost no desire to photograph the landmarks. What's the point? They've all been shot a million times over. And I'm certainly not a landscape photographer, so I won't be making any money from the shots. I still think it's important to photograph the place you live though. So over the past couple years, I've slowly developed a body of images made in various parts of San Diego. You're not going to see any images of Scripps Pier or Lajolla Cove in this gallery, but they are still interesting in my opinion. And images that I feel are representative of San Diego.
Was back out on the road earlier this month. This time it was up to Canada for a snowboarding trip with a stop in Beaverton for a meeting with Nike. More on that later. About 2 years ago I realized that snowboarding is the only that will take the camera out of my hands. During any other activity I'm happy to watch from the sidelines just so I can shoot. On snowboarding trips though, the camera unfortunately spends too much time in the bag. I'm alright with that. A weird thing happens on those trips though, because the itch still needs to be scratched. I can't not shoot for any extended amount of time or I turn into a prick. Especially on the road because you see images everywhere, which are hard to pass up. So I start looking for images in other places. Thus the reason for a completely random mash-up of images in this blogpost.
Last month I watched an on-line talk given by a photographer that I very much respect. He dished out a lot of great information, and briefly mentioned something about another photographer that he very much respected. The remark was about a book that photographer was about to publish, and the speaker said "I already know what it looks like". He hadn't seen the book, or any of the images, but was referring to the fact that the photographer was very predictable. And that stuck with me. He also didn't mean any disrespect at all, was just stating a fact. After thinking about it for a while, I realized how important it is to constantly be charging ahead in different directions. That's something I've always believed, but it was cool to hear from his perspective. As a photographer, you'll always have your "bread and butter", but it's boring to rest on that. Branch out and try new things. Develop portfolios in areas that your audience is expecting. Challenge yourself even if it means failing miserably for a while. In the long term, I believe that's the only way to make it.
Last month I did another cross-country trip from San Diego to as far as Plymouth, Massachusetts. Time on the road was shorter than I initially planned for, but it's always great. Shot a lot of images that are probably a lot different my norm, and people might not connect with them right away, but whatever. Some of them are certainly winners. I enjoy looking at them, and can see this stuff developing into a much larger portfolio. My main objective on this trip was to wrap up shooting on the barbershop project. So all of this "America" stuff was on the side, but I love it, and am always eager for more.
My America gallery of images is the one that gets the least attention and interest from people/clients. Which I find strange because sometimes I think it's my best stuff? Either way it's something I've been shooting for a long time, and will continue shooting forever. Lately I've been getting a lot of images request from clients for other bodies of work, which is always a gift because it forces you to go back through old hard drives, causing me to look at images I haven't seen in a long time. And whatever it is about time, that factor has made turned me on to images that I thought were worthless in the past. That might be a problem, but then again it might just be part of the process. Regardless, I'm happy to have stumbled upon these images that have been during road trips from as far back as 2011, and as recently as a few months ago. Can't wait to get back out on the road.
It's only been a year+ since this trip and I'm finally getting around to posting about it. Have been back several times since. Wonder how many other trips I have sitting on my hard drive? Jackson Hole is top notch. Really top notch. The more I go back, the better it is, and the amount of time we actually spend in town is less and less. Grand Teton National Park and everything else that surrounds town is phenomenal. The hiking, camping, fishing, etc, is so good. And on this particular trip we did all of that. Up the middle Teton to be exact. A very different type of backcountry climbing than I'm used to. So much of it is just huge boulder fields. Which means that you spend a lot of time going from rock to rock, or scrambling. Not my favorite style of hiking, but what an incredible trip. The Tetons have to be the most picturesque range in the USA. The way they rise up from the the valley floor is so dramatic. They look so massive from afar, and even bigger when you're right up close. Not sure how we got so lucky, but it was perfectly sunny at the summit without an ounce of wind. That can't happen too often? As I'm writing this it's snowing in Jackson Hole, and I can't wait to get back up there. The snowboarding there is so good. You'd have to put it up there as some of the best in the country, especially when you really get to know the mountain. This is the worst thing I've written in a while. Sorry.
During my time on the road one thing I've always got my eye out for is hoops. I don't really see an end to this project. It will probably be something I continue to shoot for the rest of my life. That being said, it's getting harder and harder to find hoops that I actually like. Over the past 4+ years, I've come across some amazing hoop scenes, which means the bar is now set pretty high. So unless I find something at least as good or better than the previous ones, then I'm not shooting it. These three are (in order) from Nebraska, Colorado, and India.
The result of 7,038 American miles this past month. Love this country.
More small town America, where life works a little differently.
My truck is just hitting 8 months old, and she's already got 30,000+ miles on it. That's a solid 8 months. This most recent (8,519 mile) road trip was memorable for a lot of reasons, just like all the others. I love looking through the images, and this is the quickest I've ever posted after a trip. But it's not usually until many months down the line, that I realize what was the most enjoyable. And on the flip side, what I fucked up on. There are always a few images that make me wish I had kept shooting at that particular location. Sometimes you can't though because it's unsafe, too dark, or whatever. So learning to except it, is a must. One thing I definitely learned is the necessity of keeping a journal. After driving 8k+ miles, it's real easy to forget locations and other important details about the images you make. Those details will, at some point down the line, become very important. These images aren't supposed to be beautiful in the traditional sense. I don't care at all about that. They are supposed to accurately show the smaller places of our country that most people never see. Some days I think this is my favorite type of shooting. And some days I think the images are dog shit. Either way, I can't wait to get back on the road.
Recently finished up another road trip across America with Mojo. Started in San Diego, went all the way to Cape Cod, then back to San Diego. 8,519 miles total. Given that I haven't posted most images from last year, this post might be out of line, but whatever. The trip was a great time, and something that is always a great learning experience. America is a huge place, so it can be difficult to figure out where to focus your time and energy photographically. It would be real easy to shoot everything that interests you, but then you would never get across the country. Seems like every time I get to the opposite coast, my feelings are that I didn't shoot enough, and that what I did get is shit. Then after a certain amount of time digesting the images, I turn out to be real happy with most of them. Which has proven to be a huge part of the process. Thus the reason it takes me half a year to even post anything. Much more to come from this trip. And I promise it won't take 6 months.
This is sort of an extension on another post I made a while back about a road trip from last year. Which started in San Diego, then went all the way up the coast, into Canada (Banff), then down through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally back to San Diego. Hood River, Oregon was definitely a notable stop along the way. It's known as the kite surfing and wind surfing capital of the world. We did neither of those things, but it doesn't matter. Hood River has a lot more to offer. Great camping, hiking, food, and beer. Hard to complain about a place that's bookended by Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. The views are top notch. And we were lucky enough to be there on a few days where the visibility was close to perfect.