After COVID-19 cost him his job at V’s Barbershop in Windermere, local Jay Johnson started his own business — Barber Luxe Mobile Barbershop.
When Jay Johnson opens the door to his van and unfurls the red carpet for a VIP client, it’s an invitation into his world of barbering and hospitality.
The gold-and-black barber’s chair sits as a throne in the back of the high-end vehicle, and the tools Johnson uses to perfect a client’s hair matches with a gold sheen. It’s a royal color combination that invokes the exact feeling Jay Johnson wants his clients to experience when they step aboard.
“I feel like everybody needs to feel special — everybody needs to feel like they’re treated like a king or queen,” Johnson said. “People go to work and work hard every day, and if I want to approach them, I want to approach them when they get on the van like they’re family. We have to take care of your hygiene, your self-care, and we have to make sure the haircut is detailed so when you step out, you represent Barber Luxe and yourself.”
The luxury barbershop on wheels — called Luxe Mobile Barbershop — is an idea that had been floating in Jay Johnson’s head since 2012, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit and ended his job at V’s Barbershop last year that pushed him into acting on a long-time dream.
THE NEXT JOB
Few businesses took a punch quite like barbershops and salons when the pandemic started, and Johnson was among those who suddenly found themselves unemployed.
It was a shock to the system on several fronts. Barbering had been in Johnson’s blood since he was a child, and it was his dream of being able to provide for his family through his art.
He recalls in seventh grade cutting his own hair, and his classmates picking on him for it. But he got better, and eventually, after taking a detour through culinary school, he attended barber school and began his life cutting hair at 27.
Losing his job at V’s proved to be a turning point.
“When my husband decided that he really wanted to pursue mobile barbering, it took a partner effort on both of us because it was such a huge adjustment,” said his wife, Megan Johnson. “Making a transition from a guaranteed paycheck … and then him working for ourselves? It was a big leap for ourselves. But we had faith that it would work.”
With the decision made, Jay Johnson took that leap of faith, gathered his gear into the family car, and for months rode around Southwest Orange County — Windermere, Hamlin, Summer Lake and Lake Buena Vista — looking to continue his craft and help those who were too worried to leave their homes to sit in a barbershop.
Early on, out of an abundance of caution, he wore a hazmat suit and sat people just outside of the car in whatever kind of chair they had. Eventually, Jay Johnson dropped the hazmat suit — the heat of late summer in Florida was too much — and eventually learned to bring his own chair.
The pressure of working out of his own car during those long, draining months took a toll on Jay Johnson. There were times when he didn’t know how much longer he could take it.
“I wanted to quit — to be honest with you, I wanted to quit — but I knew the community needed me,” Jay Johnson said. “I knew my family needed me to take care of them. … It was worth fighting for, so that’s why I kept going.”
NEW VAN, NEW MAN
About three months ago, the Johnsons took yet another leap when they purchased the current van in which Jay Johnson can be seen in now.
The Johnsons knew if they wanted to make Luxe Mobile Barbershop really grow, they would have to move on from the car. That’s when the couple took their savings and dumped it into the van.
“We had no choice — it had to work,” Megan Johnson said. “We’re just blessed that it has, and we’re just so thankful for the support that we got.”
The van itself is loaded with features, including a vaporizer that can be used for vapor steams during hot-towel shaves, all the necessary grooming tools, and a flat-screen TV clients can enjoy while sipping on a complimentary drink. For safety measures, Jay Johnson keeps everything in his mobile barbershop clean — thanks in part to a sterilizer he uses in the van.
In the past, Jay Johnson has cut the hair of so many — including a number of pro athletes such as Tiger Woods — but he said the relationships he has built by hosting his clients in a one-on-one setting are unique to his new venture.
As his business grows, Jay Johnson said he hopes to have a fleet of a half-dozen vans in the future so he can continue to build those bonds and serve the community he loves so dearly.
“Life is very great as a mobile barber, now that I have access to making the community very happy,” Jay Johnson said. “I’m able to give back to senior citizens who have a hard time … finding time to get to the barbershop, and for the women who work from home, or people who have a full-time job and they only have their lunch breaks to get a haircut. It’s definitely a big help to the community for everybody to look fresh while they’re at home.”