Jonny the master barber
How Jon Palmeri went from styling friends in his garage to famous clientele
When Jon Palmeri was 16 years old, he began charging his friends $5 to cut their hair.
Now at the age of 23, his clientele has expanded to not only friends but professional athletes and actors as well.
Palmeri ran a business out of his garage until word got out about the “master barber.” For four years, Palmeri’s barbershop was located on Main Street in Williamsville. Due to the shop’s growing popularity, he opened a new location on Delaware Street in Tonawanda three months ago, called Jonny the Barber.
Like every barber, Palmeri has a signature cut – a low fade with a slick back or side part. He said everyone knows his shop’s look and that most of the time people can point out who did the cut due to his signature style and following the same forms for haircuts.
Jesse Ciffa, a barber who works for Palmeri, believes the quality of the shop’s haircuts is what led to its popularity.
“There’s no other shop in Buffalo where you’re going to walk out with a haircut you’re going to get from here,” Ciffa said. “The shop is great it’s the place to be. We have a great group of guys in there so it’s a lot of fun.”
After seeing what he could make just from charging his friends money to cut their hair, Palmeri realized he could make a business out of it.
He began teaching himself how to cut hair by watching YouTube tutorials. Then, he moved from YouTube videos to applying what he learned to actual haircuts.
As he continued to learn, his cutting improved and his clientele list grew. This led him to move from his garage to his first shop.
“We were [in Williamsville] for four years and then we outgrew that,” Palmeri said. “We’re looking to get a little bit bigger and a little bit better so we got a parking lot and we got a bigger shop.”
Palmeri’s clients continued to talk about him and refer him to future clients. Word of mouth helped influence his famous clientele list.
His first famous client, Buffalo Bills safety Aaron Williams, was referred to him when Williams asked on Twitter who could cut his hair. One of Palmeri’s clients saw the tweet and gave him a shout out.
“I went to one of their houses and cut one of the Bills,” Palmeri said. “I was cutting him for a while then he referred a couple more Bills then I was getting busier and busier.”
His list of clients includes local athletes like former hockey player Rob Ray and even UB Bulls quarterback like Joe Licata.
Palmeri said his most famous client is Jon Abrahams, who you might recognize as Denny from Meet The Parents or Bobby from Scary Movie. He gave him a cut on set when he was working on Two for One, which was filmed in Buffalo.
In addition to Palmeri, three other barbers – Dave Scolla, Jesse Ciffa and Jared White – work alongside him in his new shop in Tonawanda. They help Jonny the Barber’s shop, and its reputation, continue to grow.
White and Ciffa were both Palmeri’s clients before they worked at his shop.
“I was looking for a good barber and I bounced around here and there,” White said. “Everybody kept saying you have to go to Jonny The Barber. Finally one day I figured I would check him out and the first time he cut my hair he told me if you ever become a barber you’re working for me.”
Ciffa grew up with Palmeri and they went to the same church. When he told Palmeri that he wanted to become a barber, Palmeri told him he had a chair open – just like he did for White.
During the last two years, Palmeri has taken his skills to the next level. He attended Vidal Sassoon, an academy that offers cutting classes in Toronto, and also took a few clipper classes.
“Vidal Sassoon is a very hands on, super specific style of cutting that was in Toronto,” Palmeri said. “But a lot of it has just been trial and error – messing up and learning from your mistakes – pretty much how everyone learns I guess.”
Throughout his last seven years as a barber, Palmeri said his favorite experience so far has been renovating his new location and getting close with the other barbers.
“Everyone learning from everyone – that’s been probably the best part,” Palmeri said. “We’re all getting better and better by the day and we’re all so young, there’s not a [barber] in this shop over 25, so I can’t imagine what the next five, 10 or 15 years are going to bring. It’s just going to be insane.”
Dani Guglielmo is a features desk editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.