Mojo Barber Shop brings back the shave and haircut

Jamie Winpenny

CHINATOWN — It’s fair to say that for most men, shaving and getting a haircut are perfunctory necessities, mindless routines part of the gender-specific social contract for appearing in public. Mojo Barbershop, newly opened on Bethel Street, is out to change that. Offering the shave-and-a-haircut service that has been strangely lacking in Honolulu, Mojo Barbershop is poised to make the experience part of the fabric of the Downtown business and social community.

Yes, beards and hipster mustaches have become a way for some men to flout convention. However, like tattoos, they have become more mainstream than those who sport them are likely to admit. Unlike faux-hawks, lip rings and dorky glasses, the well-groomed man will never go out of style.

Owned by University Lab School graduate Marian Lee and her Kalani grad husband Matt Leo, Mojo Barbershop is in the process of creating a market for Downtown men who like to look sharp. Marian is a former stock analyst and her husband is a vintage car enthusiast and expert. So why open a barbershop?

“Matt had a barber in Portland (where the two lived for ten years),” says Lee. “He loved getting a shave and a haircut. When we moved back here, we realized that there was really nothing like that in Honolulu. They’re all over the mainland.”

With extensive business experience and savvy, the two began plans to open a barber shop about a year ago. Chinatown was the logical location for their new business, as it has become a mecca for intrepid, young entrepreneurs. And there are a whole lot of aloha-attired male office workers always in need of a decent coif and a shave in Downtown Honolulu.

Matt Leo and Brandon of Manifest in Chinatown are old high school buddies, and the two establishments are working together to raise money and awareness for the fight against testicular cancer. Mojo Barber Shop will offer a discount to all men who participate in Manifest’s Man Challenge, in which men go without shaving for 30 days in November. Anyone who spends any appreciable amount of time Downtown will surely have noticed by now an increase in the number of hirsute men on the street.

And while the shop caters to men, Mojo also offers hairstyling and services for women.

“Oh, absolutely,” says Lee. “We do up do’s for women, too.”

Most of the clientele has thus far been male, says Lee, but the age has ranged from five-year-olds to lifelong Downtown career men.

My father once told me that getting a shave and a haircut is one of the most sublime experiences a man can enjoy. I attributed that to an old fashioned outlook, the product of his spending years as an ad exec on Madison Avenue. Many years later, after settling into a chair and being, yes, pampered, for 90 minutes, I now understand what he was talking about.

“We want to highlight the social experience of the barbershop,” says Lee. She doesn’t mean the cracking wise cliché of the Ice Cube movie franchise, either. Sharing easy banter with Jen, my barber at Mojo, I marveled at the simple pleasure of the experience. It is important to note that for my entire adult life, I have made a point of not spending more than 20 minutes or dollars for a haircut.

It’s also important to note that the thought of a complete stranger holding a straight razor to my throat for an extended period of time made me nervous enough to stop for a belt at J.J. Dolan’s before I walked in the door to Mojo. I’m happy to report, however, that the unfamiliar sound of that razor against my skin was alone worth it. The hot mint towel treatment was rapturous. Jen slathered me with wonderfully fragrant unguents, adding to an already sensual experience. I walked out feeling like Don Draper himself.

Asked how she envisions Mojo Barber Shop one year from now, Marian Lee says, “With a line out the door.” She and her husband are already considering the possibility of opening another location, perhaps in Waikiki, and a product line of shampoos and other such products.

Considering the fact that they have converted me, a person who has in the past shaved and gotten haircuts grudgingly, it seems a foregone conclusion that their business model will find the kind of success they envision and that their Chinatown neighbors enjoy.