CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No Grease Barbershop was destined to become a barbering empire and Charlotte staple before owners Damian and Jermaine Johnson even stepped foot in the Queen City.
The twin brothers from Buffalo, New York, were introduced to entrepreneurship at a young age. They started cutting hair as preteens after learning the craft inside their mother’s hair salon.
While the brothers were in college, the professionalism and quality that separate No Grease from other barbershops began to evolve, with each brother specializing in a subject area that eventually set the barbershop a cut above the rest.
“There was so much that needed to be done here and we saw a huge opportunity for No Grease in Charlotte,” said Damian Johnson.
The No Grease logo, created by Jermaine Johnson, is based on a 19th-century form of American entertainment that featured predominately nonblack actors in blackface making fun of African-Americans. Although the logo has been at the center of debate because of its controversial background, the brothers see it as a symbol of resiliency and an opportunity to use those same roots to foster growth in local communities.
“That’s like a symbolic message we want people to know about No Grease. We are black-owned, and we are not putting on a show for you. We are going to do business as men and women and we are going to do it professionally,” said Damian.
By combining that historical context with barbers’ pet peeve of servicing clients with grease in their hair, No Grease was born. The brothers eventually partnered with Charlie Petty, and together the three took the barbering industry by storm.
"We have to position ourselves with our products and our services and be able to compete at any level with anyone so that people know we are here," said Damian.
The first No Grease barbershop opened its doors in 1997 and the company now has seven locations across the Carolinas and Georgia. No Grease sold two of its locations in 2017, making it the first black-owned franchise barbershop in the country.
Black-owned business profiles:
- Kaleidoscope Counseling
- Hair's Your Glory
- Queen’s Coffee Bar
- Red Pen Graphics
- Media Arts Collective
- Boundary Street Advisors
- Reggae Central
- Leap of Faith Dance Academy
- Charlotte Youth Broadcasting Camp
- Jazzy Cheesecakes
- Mert's Heart and Soul
- Charlie's Angels Beauty Bar
- Happy Kat Candles and Gifts
- Move Pack Clean
- BW Sweets Bakery
- Rapid Tax
- Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center
A few years after the first shop opened its doors, the No Grease owners recognized the need for barbering talent and established a No Grease barber college in west Charlotte.
“In order for us to grow our business, we needed talent. We needed a farming system that could feed our shops,” Damian said. “So we said, ‘We’ll start our own school,' and that’s what we did.”
The brothers used their decades of experience to nurture aspiring barbers and created a standard for barbering to be experienced in each of their locations.
“We’re like the grandfathers in the industry. We try to set the tone and the measurement of what excellence should look like,” Damian said.
It's a standard that people can expect when they enter any of the No Grease locations.
"The creativity and culture that we bring is so unique and powerful that if that's absent then we really cheat not only Charlotte, but the world," said Damian.
As the No Grease brand continues to expand, the brothers credit their success to a shared vision.
“We did it because we were clear on what we were trying to accomplish, we agreed on what we were trying to accomplish, and we just pursued that. That’s what made it work. Not because we were brothers; that was a bonus,” said Damian.
When asked what advice the business owner would give young entrepreneurs, Damian said, “Don't be uncomfortable because you don't know something.”
An idea that resonates with many young people with a dream who are creating new dishes in their kitchens, preparing science projects in their garages and cutting hair in their mothers' salons.
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