More than a barbershop.
Yes Plz cofounder Sumi talks about a life changing haircut and one of L.A.’s special spots.
Elysian Barbershop is my favorite place in Los Angeles but to explain why I have to start from an entirely different barbershop almost a decade ago. In late 2012 a slightly younger, much thinner version of myself was working as a barista at the now legendary cafe Sqirl in the Virgil Village neighborhood in Los Angeles. Just a couple of blocks down the street was a new traditional barbershop called Vinny’s. The barbers would regularly come in on their coffee breaks and harass me to get a haircut — presumably because I had a terrible mess of a haircut and having just opened they had more time than paying customers.
Traditional haircuts were coming back into fashion, especially amongst the new wave of young people in the adjacent hip neighborhood of Silver Lake, but I wasn’t sold. My hesitation to get a cool haircut was not fear of conformity or being accused of drinking the hipster Koolaid. I was hiding something. I was hiding my alopecia areata, a not uncommon, but not often spoken about autoimmune disease that results in spots of hair loss, which for me mainly affects the back of my head, leaving my hairline awkwardly erratic and pretty high. The simple solution, a solution I had lived by for years, was to keep my hair in a sort of pushed back mullet which I could easily cover with a beanie.
I want to call out, I have it extremely easy when it comes to having alopecia. As a kid, my alopecia affected most of my body but I have been fortunate that as I got older my hair slowly started to fill in most of my head and face. If you want to learn more about alopecia areata check out the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
After weeks of being pestered, I finally confided in Victor, one of the barbers, about my hesitation to get a short haircut and the shame I had about my alopecia. Without the slightest hesitation, Victor responded with a confident quip “that’s cool man, that makes you who you are. Let’s celebrate it. Wanna come by after your shift?” I spent the day kind of perplexed and anxious. I am sure I messed up a few orders that day — I couldn’t stop thinking about how bad this could go. Would I have to shave my head if it doesn’t work out? Would that be worse than my horrible mullet? Eventually, my shift ended and I sheepishly walked down the street to the shop, Victor sat me down, handed me a beer, and started cutting. I was mostly silent. Victor would occasionally make a joke or ask me a question but I think he could tell I was mostly trying to avoid a panic attack. After what felt like hours of listening to the sounds of shears cutting through strands of hair and the hum of clippers zipping around me, Victor handed me a mirror.
I think about this point in my life a lot and with mixed emotions. I can not understate how little self-esteem and confidence I had at this point when it came to my appearance. It was a miracle I mustered the courage to even show up and hop in the chair. Seeing myself for the first time with a fresh cut was a life-changing moment. I could feel a weight come off my shoulders and I immediately sat up a little straighter.
Over the years, Victor has become much more than a friend —as cliche as it sounds, he is more like a brother. In fact, all of the barbers at Vinny’s started to feel like family. If you were ever a regular patron of Vinny’s I am sure you know what I mean. When I was unemployed and looking for work, Victor would keep the shop open late to cut my hair for free so I looked and felt top-notch for interviews. When I finally did have a job, Victor continued to cut me for free so I had a chance to get back on my feet. I’ve been so lucky to stumble into amazing people like Victor who helped me survive in Los Angeles. I am forever grateful for the generosity and love that Victor and all of the Vinny’s barbers showed me when I was down.
In 2019, Victor left Vinny’s and started his own shop, Elysian Barbershop in East Hollywood. A brand new shop, some familiar faces, the same spirit of service, and that same sense of genuine community. 2019 was our first full year of running Yes Plz and Elysian quickly became the place I spent the most time when I wasn’t working. Victor at this point was as much my therapist as my barber, and I needed him a lot that year. When we were struggling to get our feet under us, he was eager to put bags of Yes Plz on the shelf —brewing up a fresh cup for any patron who wanted one.
Then 2020. COVID-19 has hit small retail businesses like Elysian hard. At the beginning of December, they were forced to temporarily close their doors for a second time due to stay-at-home orders. Los Angeles is now the epicenter of the current wave of new cases. We hope we can help the barbers out a bit by collaborating on a limited release of coffee with 100% of profits going back to Elysian and the barbers there [UPDATE: Sold out — thanks everybody!]. A generous tip to a crew that has been so generous to us.
It’s special places like this that make Los Angeles great. Please join us in supporting Elysian Barbershop by picking up a bag of extremely delicious coffee and dreaming about the many great haircuts to come when we’re all on the other side of this mess.