This Kensington Market barbershop, which celebrates its second anniversary this weekend, has succeeded by combining old-time style with a modern approach to meeting demand.
When Jon Roth opened Crows Nest Barbershop (35 Kensington Ave.) in Kensington Market, he quickly found himself in the enviable position where demand far outstripped supply. Now, on the shop’s second anniversary, Roth works with a crew of four other barbers and counter help, leaving a little bit of time to celebrate: This Saturday (June 16) from 2-8 p.m., the shop, in conjunction with Spy Optic, is hosting a party featuring, according to Roth, “a mariachi band, Daniel Romano, who’s a fantastic singer-songwriter, and then there’ll be tacos, corn, free beer from Pabst and free booze from Sailor Jerry.”
Becoming a barber had long been a goal of Roth’s. While he was still working as a buyer for West 49, he had also begun apprenticing on the side at Blood & Bandages. “I always wanted to do it,” he says. “And then I got laid off from West 49 right at the time I was done my apprenticeship, so I was like, ‘Perfect.’” He spent two and a half years at Blood & Bandages before making the move to strike out on his own. “I always knew I wanted to own my own shop,” he says, “but I probably jumped the gun on how early you should open your own shop.”
Finding a space was a relatively quick project as well. “I looked at one other spot pretty much,” Roth says. “I told Roger [D’Souza, owner of King of Kensington, underneath which Crows Nest is located] I was looking around, and he was like, ‘Well, if you really want, why don’t you just take this spot.’ I walked down the stairs and I was like ‘nah’ and walked out. Then I walked back in a couple of days later and was like, ‘Alright, I can envision it.’”
Right out of the gates, Crows Nest was running at capacity and pretty much has been ever since. “I think after a year is when we first started to hit our stride,” says Roth. “Because it grew so quickly, I was just trying to figure out how to do it properly. At first, I tried to do walk-ins but, after the first couple days, some people waited for four hours.” Now, Crows Nest uses an innovative online booking system, thanks to long-time friend Chris Hammell, who initially helped set up the shop and is currently finishing his barber’s apprenticeship.
“Jon isn’t the most technologically advanced dude in the world and that’s not just his old-timey vibe, it’s his general approach,” says Hammell. “So, when I saw the need for [online reservations], I felt like I could go behind his back and surprise him with something … I wanted to show him something as opposed to telling him an idea.”
Along with a friend at the web-application development company Offshoot, Hammell worked on creating a prototype. Since implementing the system, over half of their bookings are now made online, freeing up valuable time at the shop. “The phone is ringing that much less,” says Hammell, “Now they [Offshoot] are selling it as a product called Resurva. They sold it to another local barbershop. It’s universal—yoga studios and gyms could use it, and they will.”
Despite opening at a time when many new barbershops were taking aesthetic cues from mid-20th-century motifs (with no small amount of taxidermy), Crows Nest managed to carve out its own identity, incorporating just as much from ’90s skate culture as from ’50s greasers. This wasn’t entirely a conscious decision on Roth’s part, however. “We gradually all just brought shit in that we like and here we are,” he explains.
Just as the shop’s eclectic style avoids being pigeonholed, so do the cuts they’re giving within. “I think that’s the best part about this place,” says Roth. “It’s not like it’s just tattooed dudes who like clean, older style haircuts; it’s actors, lawyers, teachers, 60 year olds and two year olds. We can accommodate all walks. A guy with longer hair can still come here and get a good haircut for a reasonable price and walk out feeling happy. You still have the barbershop experience, but you’re not getting one haircut.”
Having a number of barbers under one roof allows for some individual differences in style. It also means that someone who was Roth’s client on one visit might choose another barber for his next cut. Does that ever bother him? “Your ego gets in the way when you’re learning or first starting,” he replies. “But it’s just opinion; we’re all good at what we do. As long as they’re still coming through the door I’m just as happy. I think that some people, as long as they’re coming here, they don’t care who cuts their hair while some people are very specific that they want their barber, and I appreciate both sides of the coin.”
With the shop being as busy as it is, the idea of expansion has certainly arisen. “We talk about it all the time,” says Roth. “How do you do it properly? Gracefully? I don’t want to all of a sudden have a 40-chair barber shop. We’ve carved out a pretty good niche in Kensington.”
But it’s important to Roth the he not get ahead of himself and that he stays focussed on the fundamentals of his business. “That’s why people come back here; sure, the atmosphere is cool, but if we couldn’t stand behind our product that would wear off,” he says. “Fortunately, we have a ‘deal’ that people like, but I think that even when that isn’t as cool as it might be right now, people will still come back because they know that any one of us can give them a good haircut.”