OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. – He reclined the barber chair and wrapped a wet, steamy white towel over the chin, cheeks and forehead of his seated customer, an 84-year-old Olive Branch man.
“The most important part of the shave is prepping the skin,” said Jonathan Bunch, 36, owner and operator of a new, old-fashioned barbershop in Olive Branch Old Towne. “You want to make sure the skin is soft and the hair is soft.”
The towels have another purpose too, to relax the customer and to improve blood flow to the face. It’s therapeutic, said Bunch. His senior customer liked it.
Bunch, dressed in a tie and dress shirt under his dark smock, calls the shop, HairMasters, a man cave. And he calls it God’s sanctuary.
That wording is no surprise for Bunch; he is in seminary. But he doesn’t necessarily plan on becoming a pastor, preaching at a church. The barber shop is his church.
After moving to Olive Branch, he discontinued working as a barber to study the Bible, to be in prayer, to consider where God might be leading him. He received a revelation after several months.
He needed to go back to barbering and even open his own shop. He could make a difference in people’s lives at work. That’s where he would emulate the barbers he knew as a younger man. They mentored their customers, and customers mentored customers. They chatted about finances, marriage, behaving with integrity.
“It was a community,” Bunch said. “Now life is so fast-paced. The barbers don’t even know the customers’ names anymore.” Bunch started barbering at a very early age.
In Vicksburg, where he grew up, a group of older men gathered under a shade tree to talk, and one particular occasion they complained about their local barber. He was old and his hands were unsteady. Bunch was 11 years old. He offered to cut the hair of one of the men.
“He paid me $2,” Bunch said. “He told everyone in the community. The next day I cut seven or eight heads.” Bunch graduated from high school at 16 and prepared to go to barbering school. His mother advised him to expand his horizons – he knew how to cut African-American hair, hair like his own. She wanted him “to be the best.”
So he learned to cut every type of hair. At 29, Bunch had “a life-changing experience” that gave him “a passion for the community.” He began a serious relationship with God and seeking the direction of the divine in his life.
He worked at barber shops in Vicksburg and here after feeling God wanted him to move to the Olive Branch area. In October, four years after the move, he opened HairMasters near Shack Antique Mall. The 1,300-square-foot barber shop is spacious and uncluttered and includes a chess board — for older men to teach younger men the game of life, Bunch said – and a wide-screened TV.
Bunch’s clients followed him to the spot, and he hopes to build his customer base. “You got black, white, Spanish, old, young, you name it, they come,” Bunch said. “It’s a gathering place. The barber shop should be the barber shop – anybody can come. That’s where love and unity come together.”
Roberto Hacalt, 30, of Memphis, sporting a closely cropped haircut at the back of his head, visits every other week. “Nobody cuts my hair like that,” said Hacalt, smiling. “I like this place better.” Adrian Moss, 30, also of Memphis, became best friends with Bunch. He loves the hot lather shaves – the house specialty.
“I feel like I have a brand new face,” Moss said. While he wants to help the outer man, Bunch is most interest in the inner man, promoting its well-being. He sounds a little like a pastor.
“I just want to love them,” he said of his customers. “The barbers I knew, they seeded everything with a lot of love. Through barbering, God has shown me that with everything you do you can season it with love.”