Kurt Kueffner Goes Back to Basics with His Barbershop
The economy slowly is recovering after one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. But the effect still can be felt, with unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, and many businesses closing after months of trying to stay open. So, it would seem like a bad time to start a new business from the ground up, but that’s exactly what Kurt Kueffner decided to do.
A Minneapolis native, Kueffner attended barber school in St. Paul in 1973, and continued at the first Aveda Institute in Minneapolis in 1976. With 35 years in the hair industry, he has been around the block that he helped create. He considers himself “the oldest rank-and-file” barber around.
After 20 years of cutting hair, giving in to temptation, Kueffner took a job with Revlon, where he worked for American Crew creating instructional manuals and DVDs used by a lot of up-and-coming stylists. A man who confesses that he’s better as a haircutter put his dream of owning his own salon on hiatus to work for manufacturers.
Kueffner says, “When you’re a hairdresser, there is always a temptation to work for manufacturers—lots of money, lots of glamour. I think a lot of people want to do it when they are younger.”
But for Kueffner, it was more than the glitz. As many parents have learned, your dreams are put on hold when it comes to your children. After living in Colorado when he worked for Revlon, Kueffner switched to Aveda, and moved back to Minneapolis, where his son underwent a bone marrow transplant.
“The [health] insurance kept me in the industry. And with my son sick, I just didn’t have the energy,” Kueffner admits.
With his son five years past the health crisis, Kueffner was able to afford to go on COBRA health insurance, and follow his dream of opening his very own salon. For him, it heralds back to the days of classic barbering.
Kueffner relates, “I’ve seen a lot of development in the men’s [hair business]. I just didn’t see a good idea so far. There’s been Rudy’s and Raze and Sports Clips and a lot of concept men’s barbershops trying to reinvent the men’s barbershop. None of them were really about nice, simple, good work. My background is technical craft. I’m an old barber, salon-trained. I wanted to bring the higher art of men’s design and technique. We thought we’d scrape out all that hoopla, and become well-trained. It’s how we plan to set ourselves apart.”
Never straying far from technique, Kueffner notes the absence of men’s styling: “Men’s style is gone, classic barbering is gone, clean classic men’s barbering is gone, old cosmetology is gone. It died with its customers. It’s not about bringing back work. It’s about techniques that were relevant back then.”
On a topic of true passion for him, Kueffner muses on his desire to bring back the lost art of cutting men’s hair, recounting, “Men’s hair grew long with the ’60s and ’70s, and short hair came back in the ’90s. [Barbers] didn’t know how to shape the head, contour the hair. If you don’t have a good-looking head shape, you don’t have a good haircut. If you have some hair, you can make it look better—you can work with it—but that takes technique.”
With that concept, MENSDEPT. was born—a simple men’s salon with an emphasis on classic haircuts, not all the folderol that comes with most other salons. Adjacent to the aloft Hotel—with a half-dozen free parking spots—it truly is a simple place.
Kueffner details, “We offer men’s T-shirts to change into for men who wear ties, suits—who don’t want to itch all day. In the main reception area, all we serve is coffee and water. We are going to have online booking. It’s representative of the brand—simple, clean, modern—but basically, it is what it is.”
Yet simple can have perks, too. With two standouts you may not find elsewhere, MENSDEPT. plans to be not only a step above the rest, but also one in the right direction.
When employees just don’t have time to leave work to get a haircut, the barber can come to the office. That’s correct. MENSDEPT. can send out one of its highly trained barbers to the office, and give the entire staff that quick trim they need, but can’t run out and get.
Perhaps the best perk, though, is The Year of Grooming Package. For $350 a year, a man can get his hair cut as often as he likes, which for someone who likes his hair trimmed often can be quite a steal.
Considering that the barbering is done by the man who actually wrote the manuals on how to cut men’s hair, it’s guaranteed to look great.
930 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.