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Business // Entrepreneurs
Christina O’Connor

Barbershop Earns National Biz Award

Marian Lee and Matt Leo, the husband-and-wife team behind Chinatown's Mojo Barbershop PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIAN LEE

Marian Lee and Matt Leo, the husband-and-wife team behind Chinatown’s Mojo Barbershop PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIAN LEE

One late afternoon recently, a few men settled into their chairs at Mojo Barbershop, chatting as their barbers clipped away at their hair and Justin Timberlake blared over the speakers. Mojo is markedly more casual than your typical salon — here, you could even crack a beer if you wanted to — and it’s that type of relaxed atmosphere that the Chinatown shop seeks to create.

“Barbershops back in the 1940s and 1950s were known as sort of the social network of that time, where guys went to hang out and talk story and read the newspaper,” explains Marian Lee, who co-owns Mojo with husband Matt Leo.

Mojo Barbershop opened in November 2011, and it’s already earning accolades for its performance — it recently was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Minority-Owned Small Business by SCORE, a national nonprofit that focuses on small business development.

“It feels great that our hard work is being recognized,” Lee says. “It really took a huge team effort … The barbers do an excellent job — their customer service is phenomenal. And I also have people who help me with branding and PR. It wouldn’t be possible without everybody.”

Lee and Leo, along with Mojo’s SCORE-appointed mentor, local businessman Vince Dydasco, will accept their award in Washington, D.C., next month. (Lee credits their mentor with helping Mojo to establish a business plan and offering advice.)

The idea for Mojo was first cultivated when Lee and Leo were living in Portland, Ore., where Lee was a financial analyst and Leo built custom hot rods. When the pair moved back to Hawaii in 2009, Leo missed his neighborhood barbershop in Portland. As Lee tells it, her husband liked the laid back environment of these barbershops and felt more comfortable there than at a salon.

“We realized the market gap because my husband needed a haircut, and there was nowhere to take him besides to my hair stylist,” she recalls. “We thought it was a good opportunity.”

Mojo Barbershop offers a range of hair cuts — from traditional, styled cuts to fade cuts to beard trims. Mojo also provides traditional straight razor shaves.

“This is a little bit of pampering for the guy,” Lee explains. “It’s a really close shave — it’s almost like a mini-facial.”

Mojo also has what you need to maintain your look after your cut, with a number of grooming products, shampoos/conditioners and facial scrubs that are specifically created for men. And to really relax while Mojo’s barbers work their magic, the shop also has beer available for purchase for all clients.

Although the vast majority of Mojo’s clientele is male, that doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive to men. Lee explains that women with short hair who want a cut or a trim also frequent Mojo.

According to Lee, one of the keys to their early success has been teamwork: “It is very important to stay focused as a team and make sure that we all have the same goal in mind.”

That goal, Lee says, is to offer customers quality service and useful products.

“It is also a goal of ours to grow and expand,” Lee adds, “and to become a cornerstone of this community.”

Mojo currently is working on developing its own product line, which will feature signature hair care and skin care products. The line is slated to be unveiled within the next year. They also hope to open a second shop in the future.

For now, Mojo is gearing up for a barber’s workshop at 1 p.m. July 27 at Fresh Cafe in Kakaako. The workshop will be followed by a barber challenge at 5 p.m. Mojo is looking for both barbers and models. For more on the event, email marian@mojobarbershop.com.

For more on Mojo, call 888-2068 or visit mojobarbershop.com.

coconnor@midweek.com

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