John Choi created the Good Barbershop. It’s curated cosiness, wholesome vibes, and the epitome of what it truly means to be Melburnian: chill.
Published exclusively for The Urban Scrapbook
246 Park Street
Melbourne has a lot of great barbers. But I don’t want a great barber. We want to create a team that considers each other and grows together.
The Good Barbershop is a safe space, free of judgement. It’s curated cosiness, wholesome vibes, and the epitome of what it truly means to be Melburnian: chill.
Many barbershops these days err on the side of machismo, appealing to some kind of man who desires to be a man more than anything else, as if to be a man is the epitome of human existence. These venues perpetuate a toxicity in which barbers openly spit about their latest alleged conquests or go on about how society has devolved into some politically correct cesspool no longer suitable for the classic “man”. The Good Barbershop is better than this. And its founder, John Choi, is very intentional about the vibe he’s crafted.
Born and raised in South Korea, this is John’s first business, making it his first child. A beautiful Melburnian child at that. It’s a reflection of himself, raised on the nourishment of Melbourne vibes, growing into something John could never have imagined. When asked about what it is that makes Good Barbershop so special, the specific ingredients are hard to identify. “To be honest, I don’t know”, he laughs. “I think we are always working on it and making sure all our customers feel at home and cozy.” It’s subtle, but the raw reality of it is evident. Good Barbershop is special because of the lack of anything particularly manufactured. John focusses instead on ensuring the barbershop is allowed to grow in a judgment-free zone, where all are welcome.
Most importantly, I choose a person who understands what Good Barbershop wants to give to our customers and what kind of barbershop we want to create.
Part of the appeal of Good Barbershop is the confidence in knowing that regardless of which barber you end up with, you’ll be happy with both the experience and the end result. To this end, “Quality is more important than quantity”, John says. Barbers here are chosen not only for their remarkable skills, but for what they can offer customers on a human level. In Melbourne, skillful barbers are a dime a dozen. “Most importantly, I choose a person who understands what Good Barbershop wants to give to our customers and what kind of barbershop we want to create. Melbourne has a lot of great barbers. But I don’t want a great barber. We want to create a team that considers each other and grows together.”
It has been 13 years since I started cutting hair, but I’m still learning, every single haircut is the biggest challenge.
As to John’s beginnings and whether he loved hair so much that he signed up as a barber during his conscription into the South Korean Army: “Not at all,” he laughs. “I thought it was the easiest job.” Admittedly no Edward Scissorhands, John counted himself among what he calls ‘typical Asian boys’ in his childhood desire to become a soccer player; an ambitious goal he would eventually concede.
Over a decade later, he acknowledges that cutting hair is nowhere near as easy as he thought it was going to be. To elaborate: “It has been 13 years since I started cutting hair, but I’m still learning, every single haircut is the biggest challenge.” To know this about him each time you visit is kind of a wonderful thing.
There is a genuine humility in John’s approach that you feel the moment you’re called up to sit in his chair, through the initial consultation of how you’d like your hair done, and again into the finished product. Your head has been delicately handled and refreshed in ways only a great barber can.
So good customer service is one thing, but Good Barbershop is more than that. It’s also about cool aesthetics and style. Monocle Travel Guides populate the shelves alongside hardcovers on North Korea, sneakers, and watches. Beats from the YouTube playlists of the barbers, typically hip hop and the occasional RnB, lift the vibe of the barbershop while revealing a little bit about their personalities.
So I am thinking about how to make everything look cool.
For John, the barber is the ultimate stylist in making people look cool. “So I am thinking about how to make everything look cool,” distilling the coolness of the haircuts he and his team produce into a visual language painted across the interior design, always evolving and refining. “I think that everything in Good Barbershop should express and represent our thoughts. Therefore, I always think about how to think good and how to express well.”
Outside of the barbershop, John’s a keen runner (although he doesn’t go as often as he would like, much like the rest of us), and a regular down at the South Melbourne market for coffee and lunch. It’s all part of why John chose the location for Good Barbershop, based at 246 Park St, right off Clarendon St. It was the kind of space where he could “express exactly what I wanted to do.” Which is itself an ongoing challenge.
It doesn’t only mean that we make our products and consistently do charity work.
So what’s next?
John says he and his team are still thinking about what truly defines the “GOOD BARBERSHOP.” It’s important to do the right thing. “It doesn’t only mean that we make our products and consistently do charity work.” One of the beautiful things about Good Barbershop is that a percentage of all profits go to local charity initiatives across the homelessness sector, hair, and beyond. You wouldn’t know it unless you speak with John and his barbers more closely. It’s not something they tout as some marketing gimmick. It’s a genuine desire to do good. Beverages (alcoholic and otherwise) are also offered to customers on an optional gold-coin donation system, where proceeds are directed towards social causes. To hear from John that there’s still more he feels needs to be done is part and parcel of the wholesome vibe of Good Barbershop. It’s nice to be around.
Everything is what I like in Good Barbershop.
Ultimately, the Good Barbershop is John’s happy place. “I really am happy to spend time in our barbershop. It feels like my home. Drinking beer, listening to music, and chilling. Everything is what I like in Good Barbershop.”
And so it is for all his customers. Everything that we like in a good barbershop.
Photography by Frankey Chung