Frank De Barber Shop

Frank De Santiago | Frank De Barber Shop
San Jose, California

Frank has music running through his veins. The band Santana was the soundtrack to his youth — his father grew up with Jorge and Carlos Santana, and Chepito, the band’s timbales player, is Frank’s godfather. The sound of Latin beats echoed through Frank’s childhood home and he learned to drum young. He picked it up fast and decided at an early age that
he was going to be a rock star. He certainly acted like one. He was the bad boy of the Mission neighborhood where he grew up. The girls swooned over him. The boys picked fights. It wasn’t long before his parents packed him up and sent him to Pacifica, where he learned to skate and surf.

Frank soon learned that the life of a skating rock star surfer is unpredictable. The pay isn’t great. And the lifestyle, while fun, can be draining. Frank turned in his drumsticks for gear shifts. He first worked for his father’s body shop painting cars. He later started a corporate job with BMW. It wasn’t really his thing. He missed being an artist. He still played drums, but it was more of a hobby now. He and his friends played at local clubs on weekends and practiced for gigs in their garages. He started cutting his friends’ hair to express his artistry. Punk was big, so he did a lot of mohawks.

A friend of a friend saw one of Frank’s mohawks and asked him to come work for him in his barber shop. Frank quit his corporate job and went back to school to learn the trade. Cutting hair became his craft. Always interested in fashion and design — particularly the counterculture style that reflected his life as an artist, musician, DJ, skater, surfer — Frank
started to think about opening his own barber shop and what it would look like. He envisioned a place where a guy could hang out and just chill, talk about new bands, where to find the best waves, whatever. There would be skateboards on the walls. He would play a little bit of R and B, a little bit of punk, a little bit of everything. His clients would range from hipsters to tech bros to rockabilly guys, all coming in for a cool cut.

About six years ago, Frank made it happen in a little shop, behind a music store. It was underground, of course. It was just Frank and Vince, his business partner, at first. Eventually, Vince took off. The shop gained a following. Frank hired some new barbers. The shop’s reputation continued to grow. But being a small business in the Bay Area is hard. Even successful businesses like Frank’s struggle because of rising real estate costs. His first shop had cheap rent — just $700 a month. A dot-comer bought it, raised the rent. Frank needed to expand anyway so he found a new place. It got bought by a dot-comer, too, and they raised the rent. With each buyout, things got a little harder.

To Frank, it sometimes seems like the dot-comers are taking over the universe. He just wants to run his shop. He thinks it’s good for the neighborhood. Barber shops are all about community. His is a comfort zone. His clients stop by after work to relax, talk shop, and vent about their problems. Frank listens a lot and provides his own version of therapy. He learns a lot in his shop, too. It’s where he learned about Opportunity Fund when an employee came in for a haircut. Frank mentioned that he was looking to expand and needed a loan. His client handed over his card and told him that the company he worked for provided loans to small businesses in the Latin community mostly. That resonated with Frank. He ended up getting a loan for $5,000, which he used to upgrade his chairs and make improvements around his shop. He paid it off and applied for another, which he plans to use to open another shop in the Mission. The rest he will use for backup, just in case something happens or a dot-comer raises his rent again.

He likes that Opportunity Fund has his back. And not just his back, but the backs of others in the Latin community, the African American community, and immigrant communities that traditional banks won’t touch. As Frank puts it, providing a loan is great, but loans are loans. Opportunity Fund backs their loan-making with support. He points out how Opportunity Fund has helped him with tips on how to improve his credit and advice on addressing the challenges he faces in running a small business. Frank’s biggest challenge has been finding good employees. In high-cost cities like San Jose, solid blue collars are vanishing just like they are in middle America. People are going to Texas, Arizona, and Oregon where it’s a bit easier to survive. Frank is doing his part to create jobs for artists so they can stay. He wants to keep the counterculture that he loves so much alive and ensure there is always a community for artists here in the Bay Area. He still has to charge high prices to keep his business afloat, but he offers reduced pricing on Wednesdays to help the average Joes. He’s got their backs, just like Opportunity Fund has his.

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