By Linda Kessler

lkessler@bizpress.net

How many people would drive 30 miles just to get a haircut?

Will F. and his son, who hail from Godley, Texas, do exactly that to get a cut at District Barbershop at 954 W. Rosedale in Fort Worth.

“There’s a reason why my son and I drive almost an hour to get our haircut every few weeks — District barbershop gives the BEST haircuts for boys and men!” wrote Will on Yelp. “They aren’t for everybody, but if you’re someone who loves a higher-quality haircut, done by a professional, at a very reasonable price, while in a nostalgic setting reminiscent of the good ol’ days, this is your place.”

District Barbershop Fort Worth

District Barbershop owners Edward Ramirez and Francisco Castaneda (Paul Harral photo)

It also doesn’t hurt that patrons are offered a free beer the minute they walk in the door.

“Upon arrival, I was offered a beer while I waited — which was awesome,” wrote CJ S., an Independence, MO pilot laying over for a day.

Or that they treat you like an old friend.

“On my first visit, I was greeted by all the barbers and receptionist like I was an old school friend,” wrote Ted R. from Midland. “The atmosphere and ambiance of this location made me feel like I was back home with friends just hanging out.”

The District Barbershop, squeezed into just under 500 square feet, is a barely one-year-old full-service traditional barbershop specializing in classic cuts, fades and hot towel and hot lather shaves. The salon chairs are 1940s-1960s originals from Chicago’s Emil J. Paidar Co. Each is a slightly different style, weighing in at 200-370 pounds and upholstered with red or black leather.

A small fridge of canned craft beer from Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. sits beneath shelves featuring various products for sale. Hair pomades, clays, and gels from local Hurst-based 18.21 Man Made and California’s Layrite and Suavecito dot the shelves. A brand of organic beard oils and washes by Fort Worth’s The Rustic Beardsman sits beside them.

Community, customer-service, and supporting locals are the three pillars of business for District Barbershop owners Edward Ramirez, 41, and Francisco Castaneda, 25, and their five staff barbers.

While they acknowledge their modern amenities, such as online scheduling, Castaneda and Ramirez have taken a lot of inspiration for their shop from what they learned at Williams Barber College, from the traditional hot shaves and lathers to forming a real connection with the clients.

While some shops have moved to shave gels and away from the hot towel shaves to expedite the process, Ramirez says it’s important to take your time and do it right.

“Just try your best and take as much care of [the customer] as possible. We see these people out in the street and there’s a connection,” Ramirez said. “We know these people’s families, their kids. It’s so much more than just coming in for a haircut, or coming in for a quick trim. They know when they come in, we pick up right where we left off.”

“It almost seems like they never left,” Castaneda added.

As to where the desire for a more traditional-style cut experience instead of what modern salons offer came from, Ramirez says it all began with the hipsters in about 2013 or 2014 when “everybody thought they lived in Portland,” and everybody needed a beard trim, rather than a clean shave.

The traditional barber shop experience continues to gain in popularity. The pair estimate that about three of every 10 customers have never been to District before and just sort of stumbled across it driving by or looking for a shop online. They think their atmosphere makes everyone feel welcome, and hopefully transform those newbies into regulars.

District Barbershop Fort Worth

District Barbershop co-owner Francisco Castaneda gives 21-year-old landscaper Jesus Trejo a traditional trim. (Paul K. Harral Photo)

“A lot of the people, they love it immediately when they come in and everybody’s joking,” Castaneda said. “You’re able to come in and hang out with the guys and not feel excluded from everybody. Once you sit in that chair or sit in that waiting area, everybody’s talking.”

District sees people of all ages and backgrounds come in for a cut. While Ramirez does a lot of children’s cuts, he also has a lot of clients in their mid-30s and over 40. Castaneda, on the other hand, cuts for a lot of high schoolers and young adults in their early and mid-20s.

Ramirez said District isn’t just a young or old man’s shop, it’s for anyone and everyone. Surprisingly, he added, a lot of children have their first hair cut at District.

“What I really enjoy is when the 3- or 4-year-olds come in. They look in the mirror, they start smiling,” Ramirez said. “It’s weird to see a 3-year-old appreciate a haircut, but when they start smiling, that’s what it’s all about right there.”

Castaneda says that through District, he’s not only been a part of the community, but he’s experienced self-growth and he’s leaving a legacy for his son.

“Being my own boss helped me better myself and help my lifestyle a little better. It made me mature a lot faster,” Castaneda said. “I like it because now I can pass that down to my son and he can see it. You’re never too young to start something.”

OVERPERFORMING AND OUTGROWING

The pair feel that District is over-performing on their expectations. Originally, Ramirez thought it would take District a year to grow from the four barbers they started with to their goal of six. Instead, they hit six barbers by January, only four months after opening. Now they have seven.

Though District Barbershop has only been open at its current location since September 2016, it’s already bursting at the seams. The pair had hoped the location would work for their business for two years, but by January, Ramirez and Castaneda were looking for new real estate.

In June 2017, the business owners signed a lease with an apartment complex called South 400 Apartments at 400 S. Jennings Ave. The base of the complex allows for two retail spaces and District is taking one of them.

Castaneda and Ramirez hired the same crew of independent contractors to do the construction on their new location that completed their current location. They said they feel that the independent workers go above and beyond the call, working late hours and doing whatever it takes, adding, “we just didn’t get that vibe from some of the larger companies.” Construction will begin as soon as the city approves their permits.

Though they can promise no official opening date at this time, Castaneda and Ramirez hope to move over to the Jennings location in December.

“You always have an idea of your dream location, or your dream shop. The Rosedale location, it was just enough to get by. We wanted it to look good and make it functional, but we knew we weren’t going to be there long,” Ramirez said. “This next location’s going to be our flagship, we’ll be there for at least five years.”

The new space will be about three times as big as the current Rosedale location, allowing District Barbershop to upgrade from its current six chairs to 11 chairs. On day one, the seven barbers District currently has will be joined by two more due to client demand. The goal is to expand filling 11 chairs, with the opportunity to have up to 13 barbers.

District Barbershop Fort Worth

The co-owner of District Barbershop, Edward Ramirez, cuts the hair of 24-year-old Game Stop supervisor Garrett Eylar. Eylar visits the District Barbershop, known for its traditional cuts and shaves every two weeks. (Paul Harral photo)

In their design plans right now, Castaneda and Ramirez are leaving a half wall open with no chairs because of the ebb and flow of barbers as they come in, get experience and move on.

“I tell the barbers all the time, ‘Hey this is not forever for you. This is just your stepping stone. This is your starting point,’” Ramirez said. “We encourage these guys to really just build, build, build. Get as much experience about the business side of things, also the customer side of things. Then just take all your knowledge and go open your own shop.

“That’s what I had a lot of people do with me when I first started,” he said. “I couldn’t have been, if you want to call it successful, or as competent as quickly, if it wasn’t for those people.”

THE MEN BEHIND THE CLIPPERS

Francisco Castaneda, 25, is a Fort Worth native with a 2 1/2-year-old son, Julian. Castaneda’s been in the barbering industry for almost three years.

Edward Ramirez, 41, was also born and raised in Cowtown and has three children — Rafa, 22, Alyssa, 15, and Alex, 3 — with his wife, Amy. After spending two decades as a freelance photographer being in charge of his trade, Ramirez knew he wanted to continue being his own boss. He decided to go to barber school intending to open his own barbershop.

The pair met at Fort Worth’s William’s Barber College on 11th street.

“It’s an old-school barber school. They teach you the traditional way of cutting hair. It builds a great foundation,” Ramirez said.

After they graduated, the pair went their separate ways before ending up working at the same shop, Fort Worth Barber Shop.

Fort Worth Barber Shop hadn’t even opened yet when it reached out to Castaneda. At the time, Castaneda was expecting the birth of his son and felt he needed to take some time before entering into a brand-new shop, something often considered a risky move.

Meanwhile, Ramirez reached out to the shop owners via social media and secured himself a spot. Four months in, when the shop had an established track record and clientele, Ramirez told Castaneda he had to come back.

The recent graduates worked at Fort Worth Barber Shop for five months more before, once again, they separated. Ramirez was leaving the shop setting for a suite setting at Salon Spa Galleria, where each barber had his own room where he conducted his business at his leisure.


From his work at the Fort Worth Barber Shop, Ramirez had clients follow him to his suite. After working at the suite for three months, he touched base with Castaneda, saying, “‘Hey, you ought to look at this suite thing. They’ve got a really good deal going on. It’s kind of in the middle between renting a chair in a shop and owning your own shop.”

When Castaneda joined Ramirez at Salon Spa Galleria, the two were neighbors in the suite. Passing clients back and forth because they were both so heavily booked, they worked there for six months before they decided they could partner and open a barber shop of their own.

“It’s not like we met up in barber school and had this plan to open a shop together,” Ramirez said. “It just kind of worked. But I think that was key for that six months or so, to work next to each other and have our own separate businesses.”

“It was better that we started off on our own so we know what’s at stake,” Castaneda added.

Neither of the men has any formal business education, though both of them have learned hands-on throughout their barbering experience, taking the good and leaving the bad from each shop where they worked and the people they worked with.

Before going to barber school, Ramirez was a freelance photographer for 20 years, where he picked up some basic business knowledge from the studios he worked with. Ramirez eventually ended up attending business seminars and learning some skills that way. Though, he says, “a lot of it just comes from paying for your own mistakes and learning the hard way.”

When in doubt, in need of advice or looking for motivation both Ramirez and Castaneda have people they reach out or look up to.

For Ramirez that person is his wife, Amy, but Castaneda has someone different in mind.

“I actually look up to Edward [Ramirez]. I never told him but I actually do. He’s helped me out a lot,” Castaneda said. “When we weren’t in class, Edward gave me a lot of insights on what he was trying to do, what he was doing. He asked questions of what I was doing [and] it made me realize what to look at and what not to look at.

“He was willing to give me some advice when he took off after barber school,” he said. “I took that information, I ran with it, [and] ever since then it’s been good. [Ramirez] is pretty much the only guy I ever had to look up to.”

CLIPPING, TRIMMING AND COMMUNITY

Once the two knew they wanted to leave the suites of Salon Spa Galleria to open their own business, they started pooling their money and discussing location. They found out Melt was leaving its Rosedale location and with a good portion of their clients being from the area, they knew that was the place to be.

When coming up with the name for their new beard trimming and hair cutting establishment, they sought inspiration from their new home. All their lives the area had been known as the medical district and when they told a friend that was the new location, he recommended “Hospital District Barber Shop.”

“We were kind of like. ‘Let’s just cut everything else and let’s just call it District,’” Castaneda said. “We can invite all the districts, you know, everybody’s more than welcome in to this shop, rather than just pay our alms to the hospitals.”

“And that was it,” Ramirez chimed in.

“It seems like it just set in perfect,” Castaneda said.

And so, District Barbershop was born. The business was officially formed in January 2016, but the name didn’t come into play until May and it wasn’t until September that they moved into the new building and the doors opened for business.

 

District Barbershop