People were always saying “Oh, you haven’t been to Vinny’s in Los Angeles? You have to go check out Vinny’s”. Heard that constantly, and after reaching out a couple times with no response, I remember thinking “they must just be a bunch of LA assholes”. Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most barbers, the crew is a solid bunch of guys that like to have fun and probably don’t pay much attention to random emails from unknown photographers. Omar Romero is the owner, who not only put together an extremely slick shop, but also might be the owner of the best head of hair you’ll see on a human being. Seriously. As you’ll see from the exterior shot, it’s a very unique place. It occupies the bottom floor of a building in what I can only assume used to be two different apartments. What I love the most is that they kept the entrance the same, in that there are different doors for each side of the shop. Omar and all his guys are also one of the only crews around that dress from head to toe in uniforms. How’s that for carrying on tradition?
Follow Omar on Instagram @omarthebarber and the shop @vinnys_barbershop
“….we should all be grateful for people walking in to our shops. They don’t owe us crap….
1) Where are you from and what did you do prior to becoming a barber?
I’m originally from Ensenada Baja California but I grew up in South San Diego, CA.
Before becoming a barber I had varies odd jobs. Bus boy, server, did landscaping and worked almost every summer with my dad. He’s a retired Truck driver.
2) How did you get into barbering?
it all started with watching Cry-Baby and I love Lucy... I know it sound cliché but it’s true. I’d also watch early Elvis with his amazing hair! I loved hair instantly. I was 8 when I started to appreciate good hair in cinema and magazines. When I got to middle school i always wanted a proper haircut but to my surprise it was almost non existent. It would frustrate me and made me start researching more about the whole barbering world. I soon realized that it wasn’t just about a haircut. More of a tradition that I grew to obsess over! I would instantly be defensive when I’d set foot in a barber shop, always knowing that I would be disappointed. I realized that people who were barbers at that point (mid 90s) were just doing it for a quick buck. As soon as I realized that, I started manifesting this idea of a shop with charm of yesteryear but efficiency of modern times.
At 16 1/2 I met my mentor, Mr. Ralph Upshaw and his son Rick Upshaw. They opened their doors to me and and they got me on the right path. It was far for me so I decided to stay in San Diego and finish my hours at Associated Barber College.
3) What was your experience at Sweeney Todd's like?
It was a very important experience!
Without going there I wouldn’t have learned the importance of structure. I have always been a stickler about a clean shop. Even if the shop was owned by people whom didn’t care much about keeping tidy.
Todd Lahman showed me that taking pride in being a barber was something special. That IT IS a real job and it must be treated as such.
4) What did you take away from Sween's that is in place at Vinny's?
Again, structure and consistency
5) The building that Vinny's occupies is quite unique for a barbershop. Do you know the history of it? Why did you choose that building?
All I know is that it was built in 1917 and it’s been many different store fronts.
I chose that building, honestly for convenience. I used to live down the street because it was so cheap in that neighborhood (at the time).
I saw it up for rent for over a year and I needed to do something quick. After I left Sweeneys I had a “speak easy” barber shop behind Golden Saddle Cyclery in Silverlake. They shared a space in the back with our local comic book store “Secret Headquarters”. My friends David Pifer and David Ritchie (owners of SHQ) gave me a spot there and I rented for 1 year. I had to make my business legit...
6) There are a lot of solid shops in LA. How was it opening your shop in Silverlake?
It was fine. There are a lot of shops in LA and I knew that going in, but I didn’t let that hold me back. I decided to put my head down and just plow forward. I figured if we give the public genuine/ sincere service that we won’t have to worry about competition. There is so many people that need cuts! I won’t allow myself to have hang ups like every shop owner I had ever worked with.
2 of my guys just opened up a shop each about 2 miles away from Vinny’s. Beautiful shops, and I couldn’t be prouder or happier. Víctor Bañuelos opened Elysian Barber Shop (@elysianbarbershop) and Arya Abarghoei opened Victory Barber Co. (@victory_barber_company)
7) What do you get into outside of the shop?
I love cycling, making music, camping and Bodyboarding
Tell me more about the music
I started music right before I decided to stick to barbering. I thought it would be a good fit.I figured I could cut hair anywhere I traveled to.I’ve been part of a independent label for almost 20 years now. ‘WILD Records’ (@wildrecords). I record most of the acts on it and I also currently perform with my band Omar & The Stringpoppers.
8) Biggest lesson you've learned as a barber turned shop owner?
Grown men are very fragile..... (customers) hahaha.
Expand on that
if a person shows up late to their appointment and we have to skip their turn, they get bent out of shape and take it personal, not realizing that the next person after them is probably on a lunch break or a tight schedule.
Or if you “squeeze” them in they take it as a personal attack and throw in your face that they pay or tip well.
To me it’s not about the tip or the money (don’t get me wrong, I NEED money), but it’s about running a well oiled machine. Respecting every customer that helps feed my children.
9) There are 10(?) chairs at Vinny's. What is the key to managing all those barbers?
I think the key is to listen to the people renting out the chairs. If they have input, hear them out. A lot of times they have better ideas than I do.
Respect their stations, lockers, knick knacks etc...
Also, the biggest one- lead by example!!!! I can’t stress that enough.
I hate shop owners that want to be the “Boss”
Be a leader. Roll your sleeves up and get things done.
At the end of the day, when the barbers start leaving the nest, you’ll be left without your “minions” to do your “dirty work”.
Get in a good habit to show your crew that we all have to have each other’s backs and that we all have the same greater good goal...
10) Vinny's is one of the only shops I see where the barbers are wearing uniform tops, bottoms, and shoes. Can you talk about your decision do that and why you run your shop the way you do?
Reason for uniforms is because I feel that if you put on the uniform it makes you feel professional, clean and well put together. I felt like it is important that when patrons walk through our doors they see our staff and recognize that we in fact work here and are ready to serve you.I used to cut hair in regular clothes and always felt like I was rushing through haircuts or wasn’t fully invested in the days work. As if I was just in for a few and then had to rush out.
Besides- walking around with other people’s hair all day long is just not for me. Haha.
Once you throw the uniform on it feels like you’re the one in charge of your station and service.
11) Random thoughts on what you do.....
Yeah, we should all be grateful for people walking in to our shops. They don’t owe us crap! In fact without them we won’t eat. So stay grounded! Respect everyone and the rest will fall in place.