Every few weeks, I look forward to getting a haircut, spending 20-30 minutes sitting in the leather barber chair of Farzad Salehi, owner and operating of one of BC’s most successful grooming operations, Farzad’s Barber Shop. His charm, the genuine interest he expresses in my life, mixed with the passion he has for cutting men’s hair and providing one of the best shaves you’ll ever experience, keeps me and other loyal clients coming back.
His success in-store is recognized online too. Google “best Vancouver barber shop,” and you’ll see Farzad’s Barber Shop the leader of the pack in your search. The compliments carry online as well – I call this virtual gold. Here are a few gems from Google+ to give you an idea of why he has an excellent reputation for the magic he possesses with his sheers:
“Farzad is a gentleman, as a very busy business person I really appreciated his attention to detail, the amazing service, and frankly a great haircut in record time.” – Shaun
“This is perhaps the best barber shop in Vancouver, and believe me I have tried a lot.” – Arman
“It was awesome! As soon as I arrived they were ready for me. I told Farzad how short to go on the sides and he took it from there. Great haircut, no complaints at all, best of all, my wife loves it too! – A Google user
The applause on other social media sites carry on and on.
So who is the man behind the black, wide-rimmed glasses and vibrant personality? I’ve gotten to know Farzad, his business partner and wife, Shelley and the cutter in his second chair, Noriko, over the past five years and their story deserves to be shared. During our discussions, it was revealed that this month Farzad is celebrating 20 years since arriving to Vancouver as a refugee and calling this magnificent city home.
Read on and get to know the man I call my barber, neighbour and friend.
Farzad, we always have great conversation, and I’m honoured at this opportunity to share some of it. Let’s start with this: How long have you been cutting hair?
I have been a barber for more than 28 years. I started apprenticing at the age of 20 in my home country, Iran in a city called Isfahan, but was already cutting my friends’ hair at home a couple of years before that.
I have proudly had my own shop in Yaletown since February 2006.
That’s a long time. So, what influenced you to leave Iran for Canada?
I guess the simplest answer is that I wanted to live with more freedom than what I could have in Iran, especially at that time in the early 1990s… I was a barber there and I am a barber in Canada. But I wanted to be able to read what I want, express my opinion about politics and other issues, walk in the streets and publicly hold my girlfriend’s hand without being hassled.
Of all the wonderful cities in the world, why did you choose Vancouver?
I had heard about Vancouver and that it was a nice city, but also because I knew I had a cousin here, so at least I had one friend and contact in Vancouver. I have to say that even though it was hard coming to a new place with little money and not speaking the language, Vancouver felt very welcoming to me.
You have an amazing story of how you arrived to Canada 20 years ago. Tell me about your journey as a refugee from Iran and how your wife Shelley played a big part of your first days in Vancouver.
I arrived in Vancouver as a refugee on October 26, 1994 – almost exactly 20 years ago! I couldn’t speak English and I had only $100 US in my pocket. The first Canadian person I met after the immigration officer, on the first night I arrived in Canada, was Shelley. I stayed with the only family I knew in Vancouver when I first arrived, that was my cousin, and Shelley was his roommate! I wanted to find work as soon as possible so the first job I took was as a dishwasher for four hours a day in a food court restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown business core.
I have never felt like a foreigner here, and meeting Shelley, of course, was a big help… she taught me English and how to adjust to the Canadian culture. Vancouver became my home and the place that I really started my life as an adult. I was 28 when I arrived and I had to start from scratch to build this life. I’ve always liked to work and I have been fortunate enough to have many great opportunities here. I always tell people how much I love this city, and this country!
Going from cutting hair as a profession to washing dishes must have been tough. How did you eventually start cutting men’s hair in Vancouver?
My cousin worked at a hair salon/barbershop in the same retail mall I washed dishes and told his boss that I was a barber looking for work. He gave me an opportunity, so I started working there only on Saturdays for a few months. I proved myself and one day the boss asked me if I could start working there full-time. I told him I could, but that I would have to give notice at my other job first. From that point on, in 1995, I have been working as a barber in Canada ever since!
I worked at that first shop until June of 2000, then Shelley and I moved to Ontario to be closer to her family, and we lived in Oshawa, ON – just east of Toronto – for three years. (We were already married at this point, since May 22, 1999, and I became a Canadian citizen on March 1, 2000).
Wow. Tell us more about your time in the Greater Toronto Area and how you were drawn back to the west coast.
In Oshawa, I found a job almost as soon as we arrived at a busy barber shop in the largest shopping mall in the Durham Region. I worked for an old-school Italian barber named Joseph. What I learned from him, his son, and working for three years in his shop, I still carry with me to this day. It was an experience that I value greatly.
Shelley and I missed Vancouver dearly and decided that we needed to come back to the west coast. So in June of 2003, I rode my motorcycle across Canada to Vancouver and Shelley flew out a couple of weeks later to meet me. By this time I had already found a job working as a barber for a former co-worker of mine at the shop I worked before I left Vancouver, who now had his own shop in the downtown core. It didn’t take long before some of my old clients started to realize that I was back in town and started coming back to me!
That doesn’t surprise me. You’re very personable and pleasant, making all your clients feel comfortable the minute they walk through your door. When did you establish Farzad’s Barber Shop in Yaletown?
In 2005, I started feeling like the time was right to start looking for a location to open my own shop, and Shelley and I started discussing this seriously. By fall of that year, I found the location in Yaletown at Homer and Davie streets that became Farzad’s Barber Shop. I signed the lease in November, and proceeded to build the shop from scratch until we were officially ready to open for business on February 6, 2006.
Shelley was a part of the business from the start, but really came on board full-time later that year when the shop was becoming busy enough to need her there all the time. She is such an important part of Farzad’s Barber Shop! I can’t imagine the business without her!
As we grew busier, in August of 2007 we were lucky enough to find Noriko, the best barber and best person we could ever hope to have working in our shop, and she has been with us ever since!
You must have a number of crazy, unique or hilarious stories through your clients who sit in your barber’s chair. What is your most memorable moment cutting hair?
There have been so many over all these years, and every moment with every client is unique and special which is what is so great about being a barber! You build personal relationships with the people who become your long-time clients and some of them share personal stories with you about their lives, families, relationships, travels, break-ups, new jobs, lost jobs, births, and deaths… Every half hour is a different conversation and interaction with each person, it’s really incredible.
However, there is one very powerful and emotional experience that I recall from about two years ago.
A young man came in to have his haircut and shave off his long beard which had never been cut his whole life until that point he came to see me. He didn’t know what he would even look like without all the hair. It was such a huge transformation for him, even more emotionally than physically, because it was also something that he had given a great deal of thought to before deciding to do it. I felt very emotional participating in his transformation and seeing his reaction to it.
You’ve been known to cut some high-profile hair. Any celebrity cuts you wish to share?
All I will say is that over the years I have cut hair for NHL players, high-profile executives and Hollywood actors, but all of my clients are celebrities to me!
Like fashion, hair styles come and go. In 2014, what hairstyle trends are you seeing in Vancouver?
Still a lot of very short, tapered sides and back and long on top with a hard part. This particular “hipster haircut” was really exploding last year, with almost every client requesting it, even some of our regular clients who had previously always kept their hair short were now growing out the top for this “new/old” hairstyle. Now it seems to be fading away a bit, especially as it takes a lot of styling and product to maintain the look and not all guys have the time or the patience for that (or the hair for it)!
There seems to be a barber shop now within every neighbourhood of metro Vancouver. What are your thoughts on this trend?
One thing I have found quite interesting is the trend of “barber shops” here in Vancouver and everywhere else!
When I was about to open my shop almost nine years ago, former colleagues of mine who were hairstylists thought I was crazy to open a barber shop. They questioned why I didn’t just open a salon to do barbering on one side and hire a stylist for women’s hair. I told them, “Because I’m a barber!”
Now, all the hairstylists and people previously in other professions who had no interest in barbering before are opening barber shops because it is the “cool” and trendy thing to do! The good thing is that it makes the trade more popular than ever, benefitting everyone, both clients and barbers alike.
Social media is a huge asset to any business – large or small. How important are your online channels to you?
Shelley is the brains, strategist and voice of Farzad’s Barber Shop. I’m going to let her respond to this question.
Shelley: For my part on the social media end of things, I would say that I use social media to try and reflect the character and personality of Farzad’s Barber Shop as it is a small, family run business.
This shop is our baby, and our livelihood, so everything I post is coming from my heart. I don’t, and have never paid for any advertising, but work hard to keep all the information and day-to-day activities of the shop current, relevant, and hopefully interesting to our clients and friends who follow us, as well as to convey what Farzad’s Barber shop is all about to people who find us online.
Some of the biggest compliments I’ve had are the ones where people tell me that they really felt the warm, friendly, family atmosphere of our shop from our Facebook Page. I really want it to reflect who we are, our love for this all things barbering, the pride we take in our shop, as well as our own personal interests involving motorcycles and travel… and whisky!
As we have developed such personal and long-lasting relationships with our clients who come to Farzad’s Barber Shop, I want to convey the same personal feeling and relationship online, which I feel is important for any business now who wants to stay current and connected. It is a lot of work to stay on top of it all the time, but something that I truly enjoy doing because I see how valuable it is for our business. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc., are all great social media platforms for keeping connected with our clients, as well as networking with other barbers and people in the industry from all over the world.
Farzad, when you’re not cutting hair, and Shelley isn’t Tweeting, what do you two like to do?
Riding our motorcycle as much as possible and seeing the world! Shelley and I love taking road trips and as long as the weather is good in the spring and summer, we try to get away almost every Sunday (when the shop is closed) and every long weekend if we can.
We have never owned a car, so the bike is our only vehicle, which means in winter we just keep working and get out for walks around Vancouver on our days off….and it is such a great city to walk around and explore!
You’ve been successfully cutting hair in downtown Vancouver for a few decades now. What does the next decade look like for Farzad’s Barber Shop?
Hopefully much the same as it does now! It has been a fantastic nearly nine years so far and we always feel thankful that we continue to be busy and booked up every day.
People often ask if we think about expanding or opening up another location, and from time to time the idea might be tempting, but the truth is that we have this established little family-run shop in a busy, vibrant neighbourhood, and the best clients anyone could ever hope to have.
We work hard to keep this small shop going. Also, we love what we do and love coming to work every day. This is what we want and hope to maintain in the coming years and we are always grateful for the continued support from our incredible clients, so we can keep going!
Thanks for your time Farzad and Shelley! See you in a few weeks.
Farzad’s Barber Shop is located at 1208 Homer St., at Davie St., inside the Yaletown Shops corridor. The shop is open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays and statutory holidays.
Written by Elliot Chun
Elliott Chun is the head of communications for Future Shop, Canada’s largest retailer of consumer electronics and leading etailer of lifestyle goods. A Yaletown resident, you can often catch him on CTV as a resident tech expert, walking his pup, or running along the seawall. Follow him on Twitter (@ElliottChun).