My name is Jeff Laub, I’m 30 years old and I’m originally from South Jersey. I’m the co-founder of Blind Barber and within that I’m a producer; I maintain and create visions and concepts that operate and exist within the Blind Barber umbrella. We are a barber shop, with a bar, a café, a restaurant, with a product line, with a content side… but in all actuality it’s just a barber shop that wants people feeling good about themselves. I just wanted to make cool stuff and feel good about what I was doing and once I realized I was able to do that for myself I wanted to pass that on to someone else. It just happened to occur through hair cuts, beers and pomades.
I had planned from probably before 8th grade to be a lawyer. That’s what I said when they would ask ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ That’s such a bullshit question… it should be ‘What 18 different things do you think you’d be interested in when you’re 30 years old?’ So I had always been told that I’d be a phenomenal lawyer, from people watching shows and never having worked in the field. But that was my plan up until about five years ago. In 2009 I was working in a law firm that I hated. I was working as a legal assistant, a tier below the lawyers, at the number one law firm in the world. I was at the pinnacle of something that I planned for so long. I remember being in a meeting when the financial crisis happened, with every world bank sitting there, with the White House on a conference call and I just hated every second of it… it wasn’t for me, wasn’t what I was interested in… I didn’t feel good, I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself. So I hit rock bottom, I was depressed... I spent $200k+ on NYU, I had a plan, my plan sucked and what now?!
I used to work odd jobs at cool salons with my Mom, who would manage the salons. When I went to NYU that’s what I knew, so I would get part time jobs doing that. I realized people are making $100k+ a year at this, if they really dived in and did it well. I knew with my attitude and rapport with the customers, if I really dedicated and educated myself, I could do it! So Cravath was from 9 to 5 and then I enrolled in Aveda cosmetology school and was going there from 5 to 9. Aveda was probably more detailed and strenuous than any other education, just in terms of punctuality. It was a nice introduction to learn what it took to be a cosmetologist, what it took to be a service professional.
I went to Aveda when I realized my first path of being a lawyer wasn’t going to happen. But I realized very quickly that that wasn’t what I wanted to do either… even touching hair grossed me out! Honest to God, I threw a temper tantrum. I literally threw a round brush on the ground while I was sectioning hair and walked out (laughs). I went back because I hadn’t had the plan yet and then one day I was talking to my Granddad and told him I’m going to be cutting hair and he said
“my favorite place to hang out is the barber shop”.
And it was that simple sentence… I was like that’s what I want. That’s what I liked about the salons, it wasn’t cutting hair, it was walking in, hearing some gossip, a bunch of babes walking in, flirt with them a bit, go to lunch, see people and most importantly, every single person walking out felt great. So I really wanted to harness that feeling and produce it for my friends, the way we would want it. So every day after cosmetology school I went back to my desk and spent an hour writing the plan; a friend helped me with an inspiration deck and I called businesses to write a business plan and got numbers from bars and salons, then I added in my view, my story, my passion.
I found out that Josh Boyd, who owned Plan B, Gallery Bar and Ella, was selling his first bar Plan B across from Tompkins Sq Park in lower Manhattan, and I had no money, like zero dollars… but I had this finished business plan that I spent a year and a half writing. I didn’t think Josh really wanted to part with it because it was his first bar that set his life in motion, so I told him I’d buy it from him with this great idea that we could be open basically 24 hours a day; I could run the salon portion and you guys teach me your bar section and we’ll work it out. The name caught his attention and I think he felt my excitement towards it. The only hurdle after getting Josh to agree to the idea was me confessing that I lied about having any money (laughs).
I had to hustle my way into a partnership, I just told him I’d wash windows and earn my way… and I did.
And once Josh saw the people coming around, all his homies, the neighbors coming by, he felt it! We were building another neighborhood staple. When we first opened both my partners, Josh and Adam, thought the barber shop should close at 9 because they didn’t want to risk loosing customers not knowing that there's a bar behind the shop. So they were like let’s open up the bar door after 9 and shut the barber shop. I said no fucking way! They have to enter through the barber shop. Trust me when I tell you… it’ll be slow for the first few months, but once they discover it, you’ll never loose that customer because at that moment, they found their bar. That became their hidden space, that they found. And once that proved true, people started to switch their own mentalities and be like OK what would I love within a bar? Rather than what would make me money?
So far, all the locations have come to us. We’re in no rush to expand, like I said our primary goal is to put out a feeling of confidence. So products, content and service are number one. The spaces are exceptional and super cool but very difficult to run, so it has to be perfect. After pitching Josh on a plan and a space that went from a neighborhood staple to another neighborhood staple, having parties there, one of Josh’s friends mentioned that he had a space available. So we drove across country to LA and said sure!
And then the third location, in Brooklyn, came about because I actually wrote the Blind Barber business plan in Second Stop, so I kept an eye on that when I was living there and made it happen. Now we’re just making people feel good, like they can be themselves. We’re selling confidence and doing it through quality services and products. We’ve made our own website, we produce videos, we do photo shoots, we produce on site marketing pop ups, we throw parties, we put play lists together, we have a bar, we have a restaurant, we have a café, we have three barber shops, with products that each take a year and a half… what is Blind Barber?
It’s a bunch of peoples passions all combined into this one thing and we facilitate our growth through, you know, shaving cream.
FF- Do you consider yourself an artist?
JL- Well in Blind Barber, I’m a producer. I think I have an appreciation for everything without having a specific skill set, other than recognizing every one else’s strengths. I have a decent eye, I appreciate art, I understand how to tell a story, I love photography, I know bits and pieces… thanks to my Lynda account (laughs). I understand the service industry, I understand how to connect to the emotions of customers and translate that into customer service, or into a product and really make an engagement. And I’m also teaching myself a lot of new things for the business to take the next step. I’m really diving in to more traditional business ideas and methods. I get to do whatever I want, it’s kind of crazy. I feel so fortunate and blessed. I’m truly living my dreams, but a dream project of mine would be to secure real livelihoods of at least five of the employees that I hold really close to me. I think the way to do it is as an open platform; you could be a barista, a bus boy, whatever… if you have an idea, I’m here to listen. All I want to do is learn, I don’t care where it comes from. That’s how we constantly re-brand and retell our story. I succeed as a producer and boss, because I’m so proud of the people that have helped me build my dreams and
I recognize how talented they are and I’m relentless in making them fulfill their efforts.
FF- So is there a con to working so closely with your friends?
JL- Absolutely! Two cons of working with your friends… One; you don’t hang out with them after work. There’s no more of that. It doesn’t happen. You’re so sick of each other by the end of the day. Two is… I am the boss. And there are certain things that I don’t compromise on. It’s beautiful to have so many different passions and ideas about what should be done within a business, but you do have to remain focused and make sure that you understand what your business actually is. Costs of goods and the excel sheet portion of a business is important, it has to funnel towards one thing so that people understand what they’re buying. Maintaining that focus sometimes hurts people’s feelings. Sometimes you got to put your foot down and people take it personal. And the resentment lasts a day longer than if they were just an employee, and that weighs on me.
FF- Would you consider yourself a freshman, sophomore or senior in your field?
JL- I’m a sophomore because I have the lay of the land and I can sit with the upper classmen and we can vibe a little, but in the nitty gritty of it, we aren’t there yet. I have to learn more, we have to keep working as hard as we are and probably a little harder and smarter to put ourselves in another position to take advantage of luck and timing. There’s no formula, we just need to work incredibly hard to maintain the integrity, the uniqueness and the consistency of our story. So I definitely want to expand my education and skill sets to really take us to the next level, finance-wise. But on a brand level, we’ve already graduated. You can’t fuck with us… there’s no brand in our arena that can come close to Blind Barber, they aren’t getting calls from Milk Studios, from real estate developers asking to open 50 new locations. The problem is that we’re sophomores and we don’t know how to answer those calls yet. So from a business and personal standpoint, I’m a sophomore. Brand level… youngens can’t hang with us! Because they’re only looking at bottom line and then they copy what’s cool, whereas we work the opposite way.
FF- So when it’s all done where do you see yourself?
JL- Well on the walk over here I was thinking of opening a new restaurant! I also want to open up a creative/ad agency. I want a huge office with real facilities so we can work for clients. Even when I retire I’ll still be doing something! But hopefully chilling on the West Coast with my babe, my dogs, some kids, hanging around with their kids and doing the same thing… I’m doing everything right, right now. I want to continue to hang with family, show up at the barbershop, get a cut, talk about the good ol’ days and laugh.