When Money Singh emigrated to the United States in 2006 from Punjab, India, he had to do “whatever it takes to survive,” he said.
“I did dispatch for Yellow Cab for like $6 an hour in 2006,” Singh said. “But I always want to do better. There’s so much exploitation everywhere you go, and I just couldn’t stick to one place.”
Flash forward a decade later, Singh decided it was time to become his own boss: he took a leap of faith and signed a lease for a small commercial space at 357 Castro St. in Mountain View. He just needed to figure out what he was going to use it for.
Singh’s partner, Joy Holland, had an idea. “'Why don’t you just open your own barber and beard styling shop?'” Singh remembers Holland suggesting.
Singh’s mother had owned salons after moving to the United States, so it was an industry and business model that he was familiar with. And having grown up in the Sikh religion where beards hold religious significance, facial hair had always been a big part of Singh’s life.
“Beards are part of my culture,” he said. “I grew up around beards. Everybody has beards in my family. By default, I had that skill set.”
While he had a background in beards, Singh wasn’t interested in cutting hair himself: he needed to find a barber who could see his vision.
“I saw this girl on Santana Row, and she had a really beautiful design on her head,” Singh remembers. “I literally interrupted her date and I was like, ‘Hey, where did you get this from?’ And she’s like, ‘I got it done by this guy, he’s in South San Francisco.’”
Next thing he knew, Singh found himself sitting in Alfonso Nino’s barber chair.
“I literally sat in his chair and said, ‘We’re going to open a barbershop together,’” Singh remembers. After convincing Nino to join forces with him, Dandies Barbershop was born. The shop opened its doors in June 2019.
Business was thriving, and new clients were calling in every day, Singh said. But just half a year later, COVID-19 hit, and he suddenly found himself with a closed-down shop and without a barber, as Nino had to part ways to help his family though the pandemic.
“Now I have a shop, I don’t have a barber, and it’s COVID. I don’t know what to do, and everybody’s calling all the time,” Singh remembers. “My partner said, ‘Why don’t you just join the (barber) school? I know you’ll be good at beards.’ So I actually joined The Barber Academy in San Jose. I did some beards, and turned out I was pretty good in school. Next thing I know, I’m teaching the students how to do beards.”
His fellow classmates would ask Singh why he only focused on beards. Why not learn how to cut hair, too?
“I like just beards, and that’s the only thing I want to do,” Singh remembers telling them. “I always think, do what you like. Forget about everything else. If you can do one thing 10 times better, that’s better than doing 10 things just average.”
As Singh worked his way through barber school, he met Mireya Lopez, a fellow student.
“I was already good at beards, she was very good at haircuts, so we kind of made the team,” Singh said. “I started doing beards, she started doing haircuts and we kind of aligned.”
After convincing Lopez to come work at Dandies, and as COVID restrictions started to loosen, things started to take off again.
“Every three months I was hiring somebody,” Singh said.
Tucked away in a hole-in-the-wall space off Castro Street, walking into Dandies Barbershop feels like a hug from the past. Vintage-inspired decor — a dark-wood turntable with a gramophone, retro metal signs dotting the pale green walls — meets modern, state-of-the-art barbering tools and leather barber chairs. Customers lean back, eyes closed in relaxation as Lopez and fellow Dandies barber Anthony Frank each work their careful crafts.
That classic, cozy setting is part of what drew Lopez to barber at Dandies.
“I feel that because it is a smaller shop, it gives you more of that intimate connection with the client,” Lopez said. “For me, I think the music sets the tone, the decor, it has a theme going on. That stands out to people, because most barber shops or hair places are urban, more modern, bigger, super loud.”
Even the name, Dandies, harkens back to a simpler time. Singh’s partner Holland, a co-founder of Dandies, came up with the name.
“In especially French 18th-, 19th-century art, you’ll see portrayals of the dandy in literature and in visual arts,” Holland said. “He’s usually very charming, and he’s always very well-dressed and well-presented. It’s not just about appearances, but because it’s a barber shop and our primary focus is making our clients look really good, I thought, ‘What would you call a really good looking, charming, well dressed gentleman who’s well-mannered and he charms everyone?’”
While Dandies specializes in men’s cuts and beard styling, Singh said his barbers and stylists can cater to clients of all genders. Haircuts are $55 for short styles and $75 for long hair. Beards are $45, and $65 for long beards.
“I came up with those numbers by looking at the living wage of the Bay Area: how much do (my barbers) need to make a month in order to live a comfortable life?” Singh said. “If we look at the 1950s, one person would do a job, and then everyone would be able to eat. Now, one person has to do two jobs, and there’s another person also doing a job, and they’re still struggling.”
Today, Singh employs seven barbers at his shop, each with their own unique skills and loyal clientele. Singh doesn’t style beards anymore: he focuses on everything behind the scenes so his barbers can just do what they’re best at.
“Say you go to a barbershop and there’s one guy. He’s cutting, and he’s doing everything. But the main thing he’s supposed to do, he’s not focusing 100% on it,” Singh said. “I tell my barbers, ‘Hey, just focus on your craft. Just learn. You need anything? Tell me. I’ll get it for you. Let me handle everything else: I’ll manage, I’ll do the marketing, I’ll bring you the clients.’”
Lopez said it’s that uniquely classic and collaborative spirit that sets Dandies apart.
“It’s different,” she said. “That’s what keeps me here working, and I think it’s what keeps clients coming back.”