[Interview with barber Shane Nesbitt - Owner of Shane’s Barber Shop and San Mateo Zoo]
It’s 5pm. I have my camera, some film, and a 6 pack of Asahi special reserves in my pack. As I wait for a cross light to say walk, I notice mini masses of angsty teenagers roll by. Their transportation method is a blend of bicycles, skateboards, and scooters. It’s so odd to see kids around. I think to myself how I see far more dogs than children these days, then a small troop of mini people adorning soccer uniforms march by. Like a deer in headlights I stare in awe at the anomaly of adolescence and realize, Holy shit, I’m back in the suburbs.
Returning to my hometown, San Mateo. My first impression is that the place has changed a lot. Downtown is full of trendy restaurants that would please any foodie snob. After all, this is the town Curry Up opened their first non moving truck business. It did so well that it spawned another on Valencia just 15 minutes north in San Francisco. The small town has also grown in popularity amongst SF skaters. Due, mainly in part to Atlas skate shop. Over the last few years, many small business owners looking for a location to plant their roots have decided on San Mateo over San Francisco due to less competition and the open minded and highly supportive locals. In turn, these “edgy” small businesses have added personality to a town that was once pretty vanilla.
The reason I’m here is for an interview with a long time friend, highly skilled Barber, entrepreneur, and one of those responsible for subtly adding some spice to our hometown, Shane Nesbitt. Shane has known me since I was a kid waiting tables at a Japanese restaurant downtown. Back then I would float him bottles of our best Japanese beer. For old times sake, I purchase a 6 pack of Asahi Special Reserves and walk over to his shop off of 5th. When I turn the corner I see the large words “Shane’s Barber Shop” painted on glass. Inside, walls are decorated with skate decks, straight blades, and vinyl from a by gone era. Classic punk blares in the background and Shane, with his fiery red beard, sits on a chair holding a corona.
After over a decade in the business, Shane has recently evolved his 4th business, Headshots, into his 5th, simply titled - Shane’s Barber Shop. He’s been working for himself since he was only 20 years old. Creating multiple successful Barber shops and being offered to cut hair all over the world. Beyond cuts, he’s also crafting a collection of high quality products under his personal brand. After the change from Headshots to Shane’s, I thought it would be a great time to stop by, shoot a few photos, have a beer, and learn a little bit about him and what it’s like to own a barber shop.
GC: Hey Shane, can you introduce yourself?
SN: My name is Shane Nesbitt, I’m 35, from San Mateo CA. I’m the owner of Shane’s barber shop and the San Mateo Zoo
GC: Where are you from?
SN: I was born in Sacramento and ended up in San Mateo when I was in 2nd grade.
GC: Did you grow up predominantly in San Mateo?
SN: I grew up predominantly in San Mateo, traveled all over the world and eventually opened a record store [Below the Surface].
GC: When you were traveling, was there ever a place in particular that you stayed in longer than others?
SN: Not really, I was always moving. A few weeks here a few weeks there. I’ve always worked for myself, so I’ve been grounded here because of that. I always end up back in San Mateo.
GC: What is it that draws you back here?
SN: Just my businesses, and now I got my family. Everything is here. My heart is here
GC: You have an obvious love of music. I see it everywhere in your shop with all the hung vinyl. It’s also apparent in your online posts. It makes sense that you owned a record shop. How were you drawn to the barber business?
SN: I opened up my record store in 1998 and I closed it in 2004 because my landlord was getting super greedy. The record industry was taking a shit. I was selling records that were hard to find and they were becoming more and more expensive. That made people want to buy less records and I needed something to fall back on. I never had any aspirations to cut hair or interest in hair, but I woke up one morning and I knew I wanted to be a barber. A week later I was starting at barber college. The following year, I opened up my first barber shop. That was in 2005.
GC: For someone who didn’t want to do this, you’re doing remarkably well for yourself. You’re considered to be highly skilled by everyone’s standards.
SN: I’m honored, I feel super grateful for all the support we’ve had over the years. All the clients we have now.
SN: Everyday I wanna learn. I think that’s what makes the shop survive. Every day I want to learn something. I love cutting hair, I love the barber culture, I love how big it’s getting now. Even in 2005, which wasn’t too long ago, barbering wasn’t any where near where it is now. I’m just glad to be apart of it all.
GC: Speaking of that, there has been a radical evolution in the style of cuts people want these days versus before. Obviously trends move in waves, but it’s a huge difference. What do you think inspired the change? Was it a slow burn or did it happen over night?
SN: I could kind of see it when people were resorting to traditional haircuts. Rather than the extreme line ups and things like that. We still do a lot of fades and tapers, but we’re doing a lot more scissor cuts. It’s come full circle. It’s like anything else, everything makes a come back at one time and now it’s time for cuts to resort back to the 50’s and 60’s. A little less maintenance. A little longer on the top. Overall more style, less maintenance.
GC: Your shop has a strong visual identity. From just looking around I can see a massive mixing of cultures and historical artifacts. What’s the story behind the aesthetic?
SN: Shane’s barber shop is my barber shop, I put my name on it, I put my heart into every haircut I do and everything is based around my childhood. Well actually, based around what I do. Skateboarding, a touch of graffiti, barbering. It’s why we have old straight razors on the wall, old vinyl, everything that makes up who i am. Everything that makes up a part of my being. [Sips Beer]
GC: I believe the shop is definitely more inviting due to that kind of transparency.
SN: Thank you
GC: I want to talk a little bit, not quite about the business aspect, but more about the day to day.
GC: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you here?
SN: Like one client in particular? Shit…Everyday there’s something. Cutting a bunch of different men all day. You hear a bunch of crazy shit. I hear guys ups, their downs. It’s non stop. Seriously, everyday there’s something. There isn’t one thing in particular I can call out.
[Shane is quiet for a second and takes another sip of his beer]
GC: It sounds like you’re a psychiatrist.
SN: Oh everyday! I go home drained every day. I start work at a way different hour than most barbers. I start work at 5am and leave at 5pm. You can only imagine the amount of shit I hear between those hours. A lot of guys tell me… everything. A lot of guys tell me shit I don’t ever want to hear. It definitely makes things interesting though. I don’t think I ever want to do anything else. There are other things I want to achieve, but I feel I’ve found my life’s calling. But to answer your question. Everyday is something. Everyday there’s some crazy shit that happens.
GC: WIthin the same vein. Is there something you’d like to tell people about going to a barber shop? Etiquette, advice?
SN: [Shane let’s out a long sigh] I can’t stand sweaty heads. If you go to the gym, give your barber a couple hours grace. Cool down first. And don’t be fucking late. Those are my two number one things. Don’t be a sweaty pig and don’t be late.
GC: I went on your site and was reading your bio. It says you’ve been mentoring people for a long time. What’s that like in this world?
SN: I try not to think about it. I just kind of do what I need to do. And help people who want to be helped. If someone approaches me with interest. And I see it in them. I’ll definitely be honored to help. I didn’t have any help, I had to do it all alone, but I want to help. It’s something I feel I need to do. At the end of the day I just can’t help but try.
GC: Is there anything in particular, something you see in people that helps you choose who to help?
SN: Not one thing in particular, if someone has enough heart and they want to do this as a career, I can just see it. I can tell whose going to bullshit me. Who is going to waste their time and waste my time. I’m getting better and better at figuring out whose capable of doing it, but most of all who really wants to do it.
GC: Your facial expression shows your’e thinking of people.
SN: Yeah for sure. I can think of a few.
GC: Let’s talk about the idea of success and what lead you to where you are today.
SN: This is my 5th shop.
SN: I had below the surface, I had a clothing store in davis, I had the zoo and I have this shop. As far as a store front this is my last hurrah as far as barbering goes. There are things outside of barbering I want to achieve, but as far as barbering goes, this is the end. That’s why I named it Shane’s Barber Shop. As cliche as it sounds, this is the cherry on top.
GC: Which, leads me into my next question. You are definitely crafting a brand. You have a few projects coming out soon. Is there anything you’re learning from the process of crafting your brand?
SN: Oh absolutely, I learn shit everyday. I learned that everything I have that I have a significant amount of faith in has to have my name on it to make it relevant. Everything I do has to be as close to perfect as possible. I know perfection is damn near unachievable, but if my name is on it, I want to be super proud of it. Everything that we’re doing right now, from the hats to the floor mats, to the soap, to the mustache wax. I want everything that I do to have my name on it because it adds pressure and makes me work harder.
GC: Today, a lot of people put stuff out that they don’t really care about. Is it because they can hide behind the anonymity of handles and aliases?
SN: I’ve done it. I’ve put stuff out that was super lackluster. I look back at it now. At the time it was all relative. I look at all the shit I did in the past as just learning. It’s like the prepubescent kid that thinks he knows everything. One day he evolves into a man. Goes through all the bullshit that he has to go through to figure out what’s going on in life. I did all this shit in the past and to me that was cool, and to some people, it was the best shit ever. But now it’s obvious it wasn’t. Right now is the biggest shit. It took me over a decade to figure out what I’m doing.
GC: Can you tell me about any current projects?
SN: As always, we’re cutting a lot of hair. Sedrick, Travis, and myself. The guys at San Mateo Zoo are killing it. We’re coming out with Shane’s Barber Aprons. It’s a selvedge barber apron made specifically for barbers. We have our hats, soap line, and other things in the oven cooking. It’s just a non stop process. There’s always shit that has to be done to stay relevant. I go to sleep at 10 at night and get up at 330am every day trying to get things done.
GC: Let’s talk about life outside of business? You have a new addition to the family on the way?
SN: My life outside of my business is my wife, my daughter and my soon to be daughter. Outside of here, that’s all that matters. November we have a new kid coming.
GC: Congratulations! Feeling pretty confident this time around?
SN: I know what to do, but now you gotta work harder. You need more money. We always make it through.
GC: Last question. What are you listening to right now?
SN: Golden era and mid 90’s hip hop always. Mid 70’s early 80’s punk. A lot of dub and roots. A lot of classic punk shit. Class hip hop shit.
GC: Can you be more specific?
SN: Pretty consistently Black Flag Damaged. It gets things rolling.
GC: Thank you. I really appreciate your time.
SN: Hell yeah!
[We clink our Bottles together and take our last sips]
Check out his site:
I’ve known Shane for almost 10 years now, in the last year I’ve just barely started finally going down to San Mateo to get my haircut. I consign the shit out of what he’s doing. I don’t like talking to barbers really but I talk to Shane. He cuts a mean fade and can discuss tapes and wagons with me.