Thirty-year-old Oscar Espinoza is one of two brothers who opened O & J Barbershop in the Foothills in mid-March. He and his 29-year-old brother Jesús Espinoza have been barbering for 16 and 15 years respectively.
Their current success is all because of a mother who believed her sons — both students at Cesar Chavez High School —should put their summer months to good use.
So as teenagers the two boys enrolled in the Latin Style School of Barbering to learn the trade that would ensure their livelihood through the ensuing decades.
“I started barber school at 14,” said Oscar as he stepped away from a client who’d just had a traditional haircut ending with a straight razor neck shave.
“My mom had told me I needed to do something for the summer months, and this is what I chose. My brother is a year younger, and he went the next year,” he said, adding:
“I got my barber’s license at age 16 while I was still in high school.”
He recalled that when he started his barbering career, the “fade mohawk” was the trend, a more “subtle style” than the traditional mohawk haircut.
“Of course, I didn’t have one. I came from a conservative family; my mother would have bothered me if I’d come home with that,” he laughed.
The fade or “soft” mohawk, a variation of the classic mohawk, is back in style this year and its edgy, punk-rock vibe can be wild and funky or conservatively tamed for the office or school.
“It’s versatile,” said his brother Jesús, adding that some younger customers request the addition of “racing stripes” — a set of lines along the sides and generally running behind the ear.
They can include artistic shaved designs that some people may remember rapper Vanilla Ice wore in the late ’80s video hit, “Ice, Ice, Baby.”
O & J Barbershop isn’t the brother’s first go-round the barber pole.
Jesús owned a barbershop in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, for many years. His brother managed it.
As both have barbered for so long, despite their young age, they’ve seen styles come and go and come again.
“When I started barbering, things were more simple,” recalled Jesús. “Most customers would get really short haircuts. As the years went on, haircuts started changing, and got more intricate and detailed every year that I’ve been a barber.
“I can even say that some of the same styles we had back then, we’re having today. The evolution of haircuts has been a cool transition in our industry.”
Despite a successful Texas barbershop, the brothers last year opted to return to Phoenix to spend more time with their parents, Maria and Oscar Espinoza.
They researched various areas throughout Phoenix before deciding on their location in the Marketplace Square, east of the Foothills Safeway.
“Since my brother had already owned a shop, and I’d managed it, we kind of knew what we were looking for. Still, opening a new barber shop was rather nerve-wracking,” Oscar recalled.
Jesús chuckled and chimed in, “I think starting any kind of business is nerve wracking, regardless of how long you’ve been in the industry.”
“We looked all over the Valley for a location and when we found the Foothills area, it felt like we’d discovered a hidden gem. We noticed the area really comes together as a community and we felt like we could contribute something good here,” he continued. “We’re a family-owned business, and whoever comes in, we try our best to make them feel at home.”
Barbering is an ancient art, according to Ohio-based National Barber Museum and Hall of Fame, which includes six Arizona barbers among those honored since 1965.
Using sharpened flint or oyster shells, the Egyptians were among the first to snip and trim, yet the Mayans, Aztecs, Vikings, Iroquois and Mongolian civilizations were also early practitioners of the art — often to indicate social status.
In ancient Greece, the barbershop was much like today’s in many respects. Men went to have their hair styled, beards and nails trimmed, and used the shops as a social gathering spot for debate and, doubtless, gossip — or as they may have put it — news of their community.
As the Barber Museum website tells it, in the Middle Ages barbers were more than hair snippers; they performed surgical operations and dressed wounds.
Even later they became known for bloodletting, an ancient method thought to cure ailments, so thus the significance of the red stripe. White, purportedly, was for bandages, and blue for veins.
O & J Barbershop has three barber poles: one outside and two indoors.
In 1880 barbering was back to the basic cut and shave, The National Barber Museum continued, though most barbers used a common bar of soap and the same shaving brush for every customer. Towels were “one to every 10 to 12 customers.”
Thankfully, said Oscar, that is no longer the case.
Like other states, Arizona has a Board of Barbers that oversees licensing of barbershops and individual barbers.
The O & J Barbershop is a study in tidy minimalism.
The diamond-shaped tile floors are flanked with five cushy barber chairs on right and left, and the shop is accented in a dark blue reflected in each mirror. Six big screen TVs televise mainly sports.
“We’re big into sports, my brother and I,” said Oscar. “We’re into everything Phoenix pretty much — Suns, Coyotes, Cardinals. Except myself, I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan.”
And yes, he added, “I get hassled for that.”
While the days of “a shave and a haircut, two bits” are long over, the brothers say they keep their prices competitive.
“Our haircuts start at $23, with a dollar off for seniors 50 and up, children 10 and under and military — whether veteran or active,” explained Oscar. “Our hot towel facial shaves are $35. If the client wants a straight razor haircut to get as bald as possible, those are $27.”
Beard trims and line-ups are $12 with other specialty cuts commensurate with degree of difficulty. Every haircut includes a neck shave with a straight razor.
All cuts finish with a dusting of talc, and the shaves with aftershave. If requested, O & J barbers can also provide a straight razor shave for the face.
The brothers and their barber staff work to stay current with trends and techniques.
“We definitely keep updated on everything to do with barbering so we can stay relevant,” said Oscar. “We want both kids and older people to feel comfortable.”
The barbering brothers say the acceptance of Ahwatukee residents, especially those in the Foothills area, has been encouraging for the nascent business.
“I’m surprised at how well we’ve been received so far; everybody’s been so appreciative and so nice,” said Oscar.
“We love it here,” added Jesus. “Everyone is friendly and the people we’ve had the pleasure to talk with that live here have been awesome.”
O & J Barbershop is located at 1442 E. Chandler Blvd, Suite A-102, east of Desert Foothills Parkway. Information: 480-361-4819. They are also on Facebook with examples of cuts at their shop.