While most teens in high school are beginning to think about what they want to do for work, a Toronto student and competitive long-distance runner is well into his aspiring career after finding his niche at a 1940s-style barber shop.
Roman Mironov is settling into the title of “senior barber” at The Nite Owl Barber Shop in Etobicoke after completing a two-and-a-half-year apprenticeship — an accomplishment the Grade 10 Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School student said he still can’t quite believe.
“When you’re 16 and somebody over 30 is here watching your haircuts and asking your advice, I can’t really describe how it feels,” Mironov recently told Global News at the west-end shop, reflecting on how he is acting as a mentor after benefiting from the same kind of guidance.
“I love this. I could definitely see myself sticking with this for the rest of my life.”
The 16-year-old’s fascination with haircutting and styling goes back to his elementary school days.
“It was about sixth grade: every morning I was waking up early to gel my hair up, I was constantly watching YouTube videos, barbering videos, constantly buying hair products,” Mironov said.
When he was 12, Mironov first learned about the Nite Owl Barber Shop. He said his mother mentioned the business to him, but it was a fateful trip on the 501 Queen streetcar that inspired him to make a move.
“I remember going home and saw the neon lights. I saw Brian look out the window. I remember that thinking this looks cool. This big guy, nice tattoos, beard, at this really cool looking shop, and I came in here and I discovered Brian’s passion,” Mironov said.
Brian Hurson, owner of The Nite Owl Barber Shop, told Global News he vividly remembers an email he received from the teen.
“‘Hello, my name is Roman. I’m 13 years old and for as long as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be a barber,'” he recalled.
“So I looked at this and I thought, ‘What can I do here?’ … This is a kid. We’ll give him something to do for a day and send him on his way with a few jellybeans in his pocket.”
But it was Mironov’s comportment and knowledge of hair products that got him noticed by Hurson as well as the manager of the Long Branch neighbourhood shop.
“He’s very driven, very mature and he’s got a great vision,” Hurson said.
Mironov recalled how Hurson spent hours with him after the business closed for the day.
“I think it was my third day here at the shop. End of the day, Brian says, ‘All right, you’re going to shave my neck,’” he said.
“I said, ‘What? I’m really going to hold a straight razor?’ Like, I’ve never even shaved myself. I’m about take a straight razor to my boss’s neck.”
More than two years after his apprenticeship began and before he earned the “senior barber” designation, Mironov said he got to the point where he felt he was consistently getting better.
“For someone like Brian here who believes in what I can bring to the shop for the last almost three years, it’s crazy. I really didn’t think I’d still be here, but Brian saw something,” he said.
However, he admitted it wasn’t easy at times.
“After two-and-a-half years of bad haircuts and the longest apprenticeship in Nite Owl history,” Mironov joked in a post on Instagram showing when he received his customized smock, the trademark of senior barbers at the business, while thanking Hurson and others for their guidance.
He said there was an educational turning point in his apprenticeship that has helped guide him to this day.
“[Hurson] put a note in my tool box saying, “Work Clean.” I still have it in my tool box and look at it when setting up my tools.”
Meanwhile, Hurson acknowledged the whole situation might seem unusual.
“The ceremony where we give the promotion I made the point that it’s highly unusual for somebody to be this young to earn the rank of senior barber at The Nite Owl, but it was correct,” he said.
“He’d met all the different criteria for the under the apprenticeship program, so it was correct to give him that promotion — even setting aside his his age because he had the maturity. Age really at that point was just a number … he succeeded in a competitive process.”
Old-school traditions in a modern world
Brian Hurson, owner of The Nite Owl Barber Shop, restored the Lake Shore Boulevard West about five to six years ago after the storefront sat idle for about 10 years. He said the children of the original proprietor, who opened the business in 1947, wanted to see the property continue to operate as a barber shop.
With that goal, and his background as an apprentice at the Waldorf Barbershop in Ireland, Hurson said he put a lot of effort into bringing the storefront back up to shape through restoration, adding preserving the integrity of nature of the business as well as the property itself was of the utmost importance.
“The 1948 Cleveland neon clock, the 1956 Pepsi Fridge or the 1950s coffee Drip-O-lator or the gumball machine from the ’50s, everything is just not for decoration or for show. It’s fit for purpose — that’s the standard I hold for everything,” he said.
In his devotion to the craft, Hurson stressed service — “with a capital ‘S'” — is paramount, and that’s reflected in what he said are about “200 small details.”
“We don’t all have our backs facing away from people. We will face towards the door here and the patron in the chair will also be faced towards the door and faced towards the waiting patrons in the waiting area, so there can be a natural conversation or a sense of community there and it’s much more welcoming,” he said.
“When I educate and mentor people here in the shop, I’ll talk about the technical … how we hold razor, which tool we use, how we clean our station (cleaning as they go), how we move. And I’ll talk about the service, like, you know … making people feel at home, offering them a drink, getting them situated in the shop and thanking them for coming in.”
Hurson is passing along these values to prospective barbers — who he said come from a wide variety of backgrounds and are different ages — through a two-stage apprenticeship program, adding he wants to teach people skills they can take with them if they want to leave the city or open their own business.
At first, everyone must serve in a shop hand role. That means barbers need to sweep up, help with maintenance tasks and perform shoe shines. If they exceed in that role, they move on to become apprentices. Upon completion, the apprentice can work at the shop in a “senior barber” designation.
As trainees in his program go, Hurson said Mironov was been an exemplary and that his future looks bright.
“While people he’s in school with are thinking or talking about now getting a part-time job … that he is learning, and has learned, a trade can be applied anywhere to be able to keep out of debt. The life skills he’s learning,” Hurson said.
“I’m sure Roman could be a surgeon or could be a prime minister if he wanted to … it’s giving somebody a set of skills they they will have for the rest of their life.”
So what’s next for Mironov? He said he wants to keep honing his craft while still running competitively, eventually with the goal of applying for a sports scholarship to attend a university for business studies.
“It definitely doesn’t stop here. Just because I have the title, doesn’t mean I can just sit back and not care about the work as much. I still have the same drive that I did as an apprentice,” he said.