About a half-dozen men sat waiting on the repurposed church pews that make up the small waiting corner at J & C Champions Hair Salon & Barber in the Midtown area of Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon.
When three young men walked through the propped open door on the first sunny and warm day in weeks, a few of those already waiting put up halfhearted complaints that the trio was skipping the line.
Barber and owner Jose Chacaguasay had a simple explanation for that:
“They have an appointment.”
A standing weekly appointment, actually, for the past two years for Christian Ramirez, Miguel Ibarra and whichever Minnesota United teammates they’ve convinced to try out the “best hairstylist in town” – this according to the guy finishing up his cut before the pro soccer players took their turns.
The Loons always swing by two days before the next match, as that is the perfect amount of time for the style to grow out and look its best come match day, Ibarra said. That meant Thursday this week, with United set to play at Sporting Kansas City at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Loons showed up after training for a fresh ’do and maybe even a shave.
“It’s something that makes me feel good,” Ramirez said. “It’s like girls when they go get their nails done or their eyebrows done. It’s my time to relax. It’s almost like better than a massage to me.”
Ramirez nearly drifted off Thursday in the red, white and blue stitched barber chairs with “J.&C.” embossed on the headrest.
Spanish commentary from a soccer match hummed from the lone TV and a giant painting of Michael Jordan watched over the shop from the lime green walls.
Chacaguasay said he plans to remodel the place soon, make it look “nice” for all the athletes who come through, from soccer and basketball players to boxers.
But this East Lake Street scene in its current incarnation, located between an auto sales lot and folk medicine store, has a certain charm. Such as the sign posted above Chacaguasay’s station that proclaims “absolutely no profanity” under threat of a $1 fine.
That atmosphere is part of what drew Ramirez and Ibarra in and kept them coming back. Without a fancy website or traditional advertising, Chacaguasay relies on word-of-mouth to bring in as many as 200 people a day to the five-barber shop.
Ibarra said when he and Ramirez first moved to Minnesota, in 2012 and 2014, respectively, they struggled to find someone that could cut their type of hair. Until fate intervened.
“Two years ago, when I moved to Minneapolis from Woodbury, my buddy was buying a car off of somebody off of Craigslist, and he saw his haircut, and he goes, ‘Hey, your hair looks pretty nice. Where do you get your haircut?’
“And he goes, ‘Oh, J & C Champions barber shop on Lake and Portland,’ ” Ramirez said. “And so we got the phone number, and we went to a Hispanic guy named Jose.”
Chacaguasay, 46, is originally from Ecuador but has lived in the Midtown area for 25 years. He started cutting hair almost 14 years ago after studying at the Minnesota School of Barbering and opened the shop in 2006.
So when Ramirez and Ibarra’s new Danish teammate, Bashkim Kadrii, asked where in town he could go to get the best fade — a type of cut that fades from no hair on the back and sides of the head to the most on top— the answer was simple.
Kadrii and fellow teammate Brent Kallman joined Ramirez and Ibarra this past Thursday for the mini-team outing.
Sometimes rookie Abu Danladi comes along, too. Kadrii was able to eat some of his favorite tacos in the city at a plaza just around the corner from the shop, and Kallman showed off his short hair to the stylists for the first time.
Back when United played in Houston on April 15, team captain Francisco Calvo knew a barber in the area from when he played at a community college there and invited him to the team hotel to give the players new styles.
Kallman, who had become known for his long blond locks, ended up winning an undisclosed bet with his teammates about getting the chop.
Just like how having a haircut every week is part of Ramirez and Ibarra’s routine, Kallman’s long hair-headband maintenance was part of his. And the barbers at J & C will now have to come up with a new ritual as well, since their old nickname of “Jesucristo” — Jesus Christ in Spanish — no longer fits the trimmed Kallman.
But whether short or long, faded or tapered, the style comes secondary to the self-care.
“It goes back to the old saying, ‘Look good, feel good, play good,’ ” Kallman said. “I’ve definitely found that to be true.”