Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Tony Bordonaro, co-owner of 5th Avenue Barber and Shave Shop, proves that it's never too late for a career change. With a background in restaurant ownership and management and twelve years in the medical field, Bordonaro has experienced more than most. What follows is a journey fueled by optimism, possibilities and the courage to pursue new paths, despite real and perceived obstacles.
"I started my career as a restaurant manager," Bordonaro said. "I eventually owned a deli, Tony B's Gourmet in Queens, before moving to Florida. After the move, I managed an Italian restaurant before meeting my wife. At the time, I was working at the restaurant five to seven days per week and putting in a lot of hours. My wife, who works as an ICU Nurse, was only working three days per week and making the same amount of money. I knew I needed to make a change."
At an age when most people would be hesitant to make such a drastic career change, Bordonaro went back to school for a year and a half to become a Respiratory Therapist. He spent the next twelve years assessing and treating patients with both acute and chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system. After a vacation in Italy, Bordonaro was inspired to make yet another career change.
"When I was in Sicily, I had an authentic hot towel shave," he said. "It was a great experience. When I got back to Naples, I didn't really see anyone doing it here. That motivated me to go back to school, again."
This time, Bordonaro went to barber school. It was here where he met Hazel Vazquez, a fellow student and Bordonaro's future business partner. After barber school, Vazquez and Bordonaro went their separate ways and worked in different shops. When an opportunity presented itself in the spring of 2015, the former students and friends teamed up to purchase and breath new life into an existing business.
"We bought 5th Avenue Barber from a guy that was looking to get into a different line of work," Bordonaro said. "He couldn't really find the right staff and decided to sell the business. We were very fortunate because he worked with us and sold us the business at a good price. When we first started, it was just Hazel and I. We had a vision and knew exactly what we wanted, but had to develop everything from scratch. We based the whole look and feel on Schorem, a barber shop located in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Schorem is an old-school barber shop that specializes in traditional haircuts and hot towel straight razor shaves. Once we were operational, I remember thinking in the early stages that if we could just get 10 new customers per week that we'd be fine."
Slowly but surely, by utilizing social media marketing, and thanks to satisfied customers spreading the word, Vazquez and Bordonaro got those 10 new customers per week and more. As the business continued to grow, they hired two more barbers, both from the same barber school Vazquez and Bordonaro attended. Eventually they brought on a third.
As Bordonaro shared, business was good and, as a result, other opportunities presented themselves. "About a year ago, Hazel was getting anxious to do something else," he said. "His idea was to incorporate a barber shop into a bar. We ended up identifying a spot not too far from the original shop. The original idea was to have a barber shop in the front and a speakeasy bar in the back. We worked on getting the architectural drawings, the permits and everything else in place, but couldn't find the right person to run it. We also had an issue with the permitting in regards to how many doors and bathrooms we needed. As a result, we changed direction and decided to just do a barber shop that also offers services like hair removal, pedicures, manicures and hand treatments. We named the second shop, The Barber and Shave Shop."
Bordonaro is not hesitant to acknowledge the fact that other barber shops are popping up like crazy. As such, he's fully aware of the need to distinguish his barber shop from others. Part of what he enjoys most, helping the younger guys succeed, meeting great people and providing his customers with a truly unforgettable and relaxing experience, is what helps to set his shops apart. They also make their own beard oils and provide customers with a custom blend option that includes scents like leather, lavender and tobacco. For guys brave enough to get their back hair waxed, they'll even throw in a shot of whiskey. Needless to say, they've done a great job of carving out a niche and making their shop as unique as possible.
Looking ahead, Vazquez and Bordonaro are focused on growing their two shops, employing more local barbers and giving ownership to some. Bordonaro shared that two additional barbers are set to become partial owners. They're expanding into services that are traditionally thought of as being for women, including manicures, pedicures and hair removal as a way to further distinguish themselves and capitalize on increased demand by men for these services. A more long-term strategy by Vazquez and Bordonaro is to offer advanced barber training, not only as an additional revenue stream, but also as a way to meet and recruit highly skilled barbers.
What advice does Bordonaro have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "It's a good idea to talk to someone that’s already doing what you're trying to do," he said. "Especially if it's a new idea. Talk to them and find out what problems there are. A lot of young guys want to open barber shops and they don’t understand the numbers. It's critically important to understand the numbers and, along the way, don't get too excited about your idea. If you need professional insight and advice, SCORE is a great organization to work with. The book E-Myth is also a great resource. Lots of valuable advice in that book."