Stags Barbershop, a full-service barbershop that specializes in traditional haircuts, began as a high school dream for Napa resident and owner Gustavo Peña.
“As a kid, my mom would sell perfume and jewelry right next to a hair salon on Solano Avenue. I was in and out of there all the time because there wasn’t a babysitter. The women at the hair salon would take turns cutting my hair in their free time. I was kind of picky with my haircuts and could tell good ones from bad ones. That’s how I began thinking that barbering was a cool profession,” said Peña.
Today, Stags Barbershop has four barbers who feel more like friends than coworkers. In addition, since 2016, the shop has had its own storefront at 1637 Lincoln Ave. This is a result of Peña’s six years of saving.
“I began cutting hair in 2010 at the back of my parents’ retail clothing store, El Vaquero at 2414 Jefferson Street, Suite B. After I graduated from Hinton Barber College in Vallejo, my parents let me use an empty space to build up my clientele,” said Peña.
Peña said his parents, Adolfo and Emma Peña, were not always excited with the idea of him becoming a barber.
“I grew up in Napa and I’m first generation. I graduated from Vintage High School in 2006. When I first told my parents I wanted to be a barber, they encouraged me to go to community college instead. I went to Napa Valley Community College for two years, but it wasn’t for me. That’s when I began working and saving. Later I went to Hinton, thanks in part to a loan from a family friend for some of the tuition,” said Peña.
Peña said while doing business under his own name at El Vaquero, he learned how to build up a reputation through good customer service and word of mouth.
“It helped that the store was in a busy location. Right next to El Vaquero there’s a 99 cent store and a laundromat. Across from my parents’ shop there’s a Mexican market. People would go over there to shop. I put up a sign in the front of my parents’ store with “Barbershop” on it. The customers found me,” said Peña.
Peña said although barber college taught him a great deal, he had to learn some things on his own.
“At school, there are a lot of guards you can put on a clipper, like 1, 2, 3,” said Peña.
A clipper guard determines the length of hair that will be left on the head.
“In the real world, you can’t give a good haircut just by using a certain guard. You have to design a haircut for each individual person. You need to shape their hair to their head,” said Peña.
Peña said barbershops differ from hair salons in several ways.
“Barbers use clippers. We also use a straight razor to shave, which is not allowed in hair salons. In addition, at the end of every cut, we do a hot lather neck shave. We use hot lather to get the pores to open up,” said Peña.
Peña said barbershops have a reputation for being a man’s domain. He strives to create an atmosphere that’s welcoming to everyone.
“We greet people as they come in and offer refreshments like lollipops for the kids. Most of the customers are men, but many mothers come here to have their sons’ hair cut. Women who are looking to get a design also visit us. We are a family-friendly shop. There’s music going and multiple TVs playing sports or anything of interest. Our goal is to make everyone feel comfortable,” said Peña.
Peña said Stags does a lot of “classic” haircuts, including slick backs, comb-overs, “high and tights,” and pompadours.
“We often add a fade to them, keeping them nice and tight on the sides. We’re also creating a lot of hard parts, cutting in a part with clippers. Before, natural parts were more popular,” said Peña.
Peña said the name for the shop came from suddenly spotting the word “stag” on television.
“It refers to males and goes to my love of hunting. I wanted to combine those things in the name of my shop,” said Peña.
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Shawn Manriquez, a barber at Stags who is also a Vintage High School graduate, said he enjoys giving children a back-to-school special.
“I get kids really crispy. Parents have high expectations and we try and meet them,” said Manriquez.
Manriquez, who joined Stags three months ago, said it’s not unheard of for parents to bring in boys who have tried to play barber at home.
“Depending on how much the kid cuts, we either have to go really short or go low to the scalp. But we make them look good,” said Manriquez.
Manriquez said he came to Stags after meeting Peña at a Oakland Raiders tailgate.
“I like working with him because we are very similar and like a lot of the same things. I even cut his hair for him,” said Manriquez.
Esteban Raya, who is an apprentice at Stags, said Peña invited him to try out for the shop after Raya asked several times.
“There’s two ways to become a barber: (go) to barber college full-time or (do) bookwork once a week and (apprentice) at a shop. I chose the second way because it was more convenient and got me into the trade faster. I learned about Gustavo because I worked at a winery and a lot of people there had him cut their hair,” said Raya.
Raya said he appreciates the chance to train and become part of the team at Stags.
“Not every owner would give a chance to someone who has not previously worked at a barbershop and (is not) super-experienced,” said Raya.
Raya said that for the eight months he has worked at the shop, Peña has been a great mentor, coworker and friend.
“(He’s a) very humble guy *who) never thinks himself above anyone. (That) makes him a great boss,” said Raya.
Raya said it helps that the team always does more than what Peña expects.
“We stay after hours, clean the shop, and work charity events. We are a family, not just a business,” said Raya.
Peña said his advice for new business owners is to get ready to work hard and put in long hours.
“If you’re determined and persistent, it will pay off,” said Peña.
Peña said at his parents’ store, he paid to rent the space he used and worked their hours.
“Now I’m responsible for the whole building, including bills like electricity. I created my own team. That takes time,” said Peña.
Peña said new barbers should be consistent with their schedules and make themselves available to customers on a regular basis.
“For the first few years, I worked seven days a week. In this line of work, the customer is always right. I let them know they are my boss,” said Peña.