Narrative by Lauren Ash. Photography by Zakkiyyah.
He knows parts of me no one else ever will and yet I only see him once a month.
Settle down, I’m talking about my barber, Manny, at Lake Street Barbering Co. In my experience as a black woman who prefers everything about me to be au natural, including my hair, finding a sharp barber was absolutely fundamental to my livelihood when I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago. Yep, a good haircut was somewhere on my to-do list below groceries and paying rent. This Daymakers feature, which is a recurring section of our online publication, is actually inspired by my barber, Manny, and will continue to spotlight people of color cultivating their crafts and lives in ways that inspire self-care, self-love and all the good feelings that come with confidence!
Natural-haired friends, I’ve learned my lesson -- don’t go to a salon. Even if they tell you “yes, we have so-and-so and they can cut hair really well,” a bad haircut in fall of 2014 proved otherwise (note: I paid nearly $100 for this bad haircut after she deep conditioned all of the hair that she proceeded to cut off). Barbers are trained in cutting hair plus the environment of a good barbershop can’t be beat.
Cue Lake Street Barbering Company. Their name? On point. Their location? Dope. Their aesthetic? Coolness meets bearded men meets cosmopolitan meets hip-hop meets all-kinds-of-melanated goodness. Seriously. There's so much visually appealing about their shop and how they present themselves. Their aprons are custom-made (by Red, White, and Blue based in San Francisco), featuring stitched denim and each of their names engraved in leather. Manny rocks an Ecuadorian-flag-inspired barberpole tattoo on his arm, a symbol of two aspects of his identity he is most proud of. When you walk toward their shop, located in the West Loop of Chicago, you'll note note their chalkboard sign with a cartoon of a bearded man that advertises their hot towel shave (Manny swears its not him, but we know better). You look through their glass walls and everyone looks up and nods. You get buzzed in and are greeted by hip-hop and good vibes. If you’re special, you get invited to the back. What’s in the back? You’ll find out if you enter their good graces.
Manny and Ralf are co-owners of Lake Street Barbering Co. Several years ago, they found themselves in cosmetology school together and admitted to me that they bonded as they were among the only men in the bunch. Fast forward to the present and most of the team they’ve brought together has been together for over a decade. Manny’s longest client relationship is going on 11 years. He has watched children grow into men and women.
What makes LSBCo special? “We’re just ourselves,” Ralf says. I agree. Manny describes their aesthetic as “old-school meets new school” and describes his barbers as “fun” and a “cast of characters.” True. From the multiple times I’ve stopped in, whether for a haircut or simply to say hello, I’m never quite sure what’s going to come out of someone’s mouth. It’s always funny and always worth telling a friend about later.
So far, I’ve sent at least three of my girlfriends Manny’s way (hey, Fushcia, Alexandria, and Erin). They always come out looking fresh and always come out with a story.
Manny knew from a young age that he wanted to be a barber. When he told his teacher, she replied "oh, so you're a daymaker!" referring to how barbers, if they exercise their craft properly, make people's day. Indeed he does.
The “why” behind Manny’s work ethic is admirable. Manny is a family man. Two of his tattoos symbolize this. The large rose represents his wife and the small rose is for his son. Manny brings in his 5-year-old son, AJ, every Saturday, one of the busiest days for the shop. He wants AJ to learn about his craft from an early age and to appreciate it. Manny also has a daughter who is nearly two. He attends church with his kids and his wife each Sunday. Growing up, he witnessed his father speak from behind the pulpit on Sundays. In addition to his family, faith gets Manny up in the morning and he dwells on it before he gets out of bed each day.
In addition to rituals of faith and community, Manny credits his wife’s skincare products, drinking lots of water, and his crossfit practice as reasons for staying healthy. And he has a pretty epic beard that he takes care of, showing his interest in self-care and maintenance. I asked him, why the beard? His answer: he got bored. Manny described that he can’t do makeup, can’t get extensions, that he wears one of his 47 grey t-shirts every day (it’s true, I started noticing it after told me this months ago), so why not grow a well-kempt beard?
When chatting a couple of months ago, Zakkiyyah, Manny and I all agreed that one of our collective goals in life is to simply do what we love and be supported financially in doing so. Most people are afraid to reach for this because they believe that this is impossible. Manny serves as an inspiration for us as we keep on pushing forward and growing into the creative entrepreneurs that we want to be.
In Chicago? Book your appointment with Lake Street Barbering Co. today. And follow them on Instagram: @lakestreetbarbers