The Art Of The New Barber: Part II

Yesterday we published the first installment of our two-part exploration on the art of the new barber. Today we bring our story close to home in a conversation with Village Cigar Company & Barbershop, a company with locations in Oakville and Burlington, Ontario. Another hybrid barbershop, the title of the establishment perhaps gives away their dual offerings: cigars! The location houses five antique barber chairs and a one-hundred-square-foot humidor to accommodate both sides of the business. Clients can enjoy a straight-razor shave followed by a fine cigar in the private courtyard, making the establishment a true gentleman’s retreat.

The inspiration for Village Cigar Company & Barbershop was born from a general dissatisfaction experienced by co-owners Jerry Filice and Ryan Baker as they struggled with the daily grind. They transformed that desire for more by identifying a need in the local community. “Where does any good idea come from?” says Filice. “We had had enough of the cookie cutter Monday-Friday, 9-5 rat race of ladder climbing and cutthroat corporate environments. We were tired of long commutes, extensive meetings for the sake of meetings, and the pressure of unreasonable results. So we decided to take control and venture out on our own.”

Filice and Baker sat down together to identify two key points: what they truly loved, and what need existed within the local community. They began to brainstorm and discovered that their shared interests could fuse to create a common enterprise. Both were cigar collectors and enthusiasts, and both loved to spend time in barbershops, connecting with friends and meeting new people. “We began to do our research and very quickly the general idea of Village Cigar Company & Barbershop came together. From there, it’s been growth, expansion, and refinement in a completely organic journey.”

The choice to form a hybrid business rather than focusing on cigars or barbering was informed by the traditional barbershops of the past, which functioned as social clubs for men to gather and fraternize while they groomed. “You can find a cigar shop,” Filice points out. “You can find a barbershop. Both may be great, but what didn’t exist when we first opened in 2012 was an old school throw back to when both the cigar and barbershop were gathering places for gents to enjoy each other’s company, a good cigar, and a quality cut.” Filice and Baker had a hunch that keeping with tradition and combining the two would appeal to like-minded individuals, and they were not disappointed. This early success was, no doubt, aided by their personal touch.

“The fundamental link between our cigar and barbershop is community,” says Filice. “There are millions of retail options, and we never set out to become just another. We wanted to create a space where people felt welcome, comfortable, and had no desire to rush out. We treat everyone with the respect and human connection they desire and deserve and ensure they receive both the best information and service possible.”

And so the Village Cigar Company & Barbershop opened in 2012, with its first location in Burlington. The brand’s aesthetic was, and is, an unmistakable vintage vibe. To create this throwback atmosphere, a careful attention to detail and design was necessary. It took Filice and Baker no longer than five minutes to know that vintage would be the aim of the décor, playing with nostalgia in everything from the brand identity to the antique furniture pieces. “New is nice,” says Filice, “but there’s nothing like something that’s seen adventure. Our cash registers are more than one hundred years old; most of our barber chairs are at least sixty years old. Just imagine what they’ve seen and heard!”

The same vision applies when it comes to the company’s retail offerings, with one common thread; it is quintessentially them. “Why does a cigar shop sell socks, boots, or watches? Because it’s all stuff we like and have in our daily lives. It’s about more than cigars and cuts,” Filice continues. “It’s about a true gentleman’s lifestyle.” This core identity is one that Filice and Baker arrive at together; they approach everything as an equal partnership, discussing each and every detail. Thankfully, says Filice, their ideas generally begin “in close proximity to each other’s,” allowing them to arrive at a decision that pleases them both.

Despite these fine grooming services, we were surprised to learn that Filice and Baker have never gone completely clean-shaven themselves. “We’re very happy with our beards as there is much less maintenance,” he laughs. “Every haircut is completed with hot water and a straight razor on the nape of the neck, and that’s the closest we’ve ever come.” And just because they haven’t experienced it for themselves doesn’t mean that they can’t tell when their clients are enjoying it, be it a newcomer who arises from his chair with an expression of “equal parts relaxation, elation, and renewed energy,” or a vet who states that their crew is “the best in the business.” Filice shares that many have been known to nap in those antique barber chairs during their shave. “It’s unlike anything else a man can treat himself to.”

Perhaps less relaxing, on the business side of things, are the Canadian tobacco laws and bylaws, which Filice describes as a “considerable labyrinth,” one that is more heavily controlled than almost any other commercial sector. But Filice and Baker have navigated these murky waters well, working with licensed distributors to source the newest and most popular brands available. They also have their own brand, Pueblo Cigars, sourced through Nicaraguan cigar giant AJ Fernandez. “We have several proprietary options within the brand and expansion is planned for the line,” says Filice. “It’s been one of the most exciting and rewarding projects we’ve taken on since inception.” He and Baker also travel to major cigar regions, forming relationships with cigar company owners and managers, ensuring that Village Cigar & Barber Company—and Canada as a whole—are “top of mind for new options and top quality.”

Operating in a specialty niche, of course, requires a specialty approach. And we were curious to know whether a love for cigars was part of the job description when it came to finding barbers.

The hiring process, Filice explains, happens in one of two ways. “We either form a relationship with an experienced traditional barber who is looking to become part of our close family, or we train them internally. We have an apprenticeship program that takes the keenly interested from never having held a pair of shears, to cleaning the shop, getting coffee, answering phones, and eventually towards the actual act of cuts and shaves. It’s been a long process overseen by our full time experts and one that is truly rewarding.” A love for cigars, he goes on to explain, is not actually a prerequisite, but that the old adage ‘birds of a feather…’ applies to their business; almost all of their barbers are cigar enthusiasts.

The success of Village Cigar Company & Barbershop has meant fairly regular expansion; following the initial location in Burlington, an Oakville location followed in 2015. In a little over a month they’ll be opening a third brick-and-mortar in downtown Guelph. This growth is no easy undertaking for business owners with such a hands-on approach, but they aren’t deterred. “We literally do everything ourselves,” says Filice, “from demolition to build, every step of the way. We manage our own marketing and social media, we create our own product mix…we even educate and train our own barbers.” Despite the expansion being what he describes as a “cosmic size undertaking,” he modestly recognizes that such challenges keep them in check and ensure that the business doesn’t grow too quickly. They also rely heavily on shop managers and barbers, as it’s impossible for them to be everywhere at once, no matter how Herculean the effort; that also factors into smart growth at a sustainable pace.

Will there be more locations in the future? Well, Guelph is the next big step — and, as Filice teases, “you never know what the future holds!”