By Cary Shuman
Robert Dello Russo is the owner, operator, and master barber at Boston Barber & Tattoo Co. at 113 Salem St. in the North End.
He is proud to hold all three titles and rightfully so. Under Dello Russo’s creative and innovative guidance, Boston Barber & Tattoo has emerged as the busiest barbershop in the city. The 40-year-old North End resident also operates a second barbershop at 124 Bowdoin St in Beacon Hill.
Dello Russo and his staff are celebrating the tenth anniversary at the North End location. The business was at first solely a barbershop, but five years in to the venture, Dello Russo added a tattoo section and an espresso coffee bar in what used to be the site’s backyard.
“I was losing clients because people wanted to go get a coffee and didn’t want to wait in line – so my idea was why don’t I just open a coffee shop in the back of my barbershop?”
Dello Russo began cutting hair at the age of 14 in the basement of his family home that used to house the Dello Russo Funeral Home. He graduated in 1994 from Malden Catholic High School where he was the star shortstop for the baseball team.
He attended UMass/Lowell and Bunker Hill Community College and worked in different jobs, including a position at his brother Michael Dello Russo’s coffee shop (His brother currently owns Dello Russo Construction).
A graduate of New England Hair Academy in Malden at the age of 19, Dello Russo made a career decision a decade later to return to the haircutting profession.
“I started working at a barbershop to hone my craft and see if it was something I wanted to do as a career,” said Dello Russo. “In 2005, I had this vision of the barbershop that I wanted to open. I wanted to capture the nostalgic feeling of an old time barber shop but give it a different presence.”
He took over the site of a small travel agency and opened a barbershop with two barber chairs. In the ensuing years as a result of the store’s growing popularity, Dello Russo expanded and he now has ten barbers working at the shop. He also added a second floor where there are three barber stations and two tattoo artists. Clients can enter the shop either from Salem Street or Parmenter Street.
The interior of the shop is an oxymoron in a sense: a new environment with an old-fashioned flair. There are original 100-year-old hardwood floors with new mahogany-stained benches.
“I researched a lot of the old shops in New York City and Boston in the early 1900s and tried to capture a lot of that style within my shop because it resonates with everybody,” he said.
The shop has become one of the social hubs in the neighborhood where, much like the Cheers bar of TV fame, everyone knows your name.
“I really pride myself that I created an environment where people, young and old, from all walks of life, can be sitting next to each other getting a haircut in a place classy enough for people to feel comfortable,” said Dello Russo, who credits his brother, Michael, for his expertise in building the shop to the exact specifications of his vision for the shop.
The shop has attracted a number of Boston sports celebrities, notably members of the Boston Bruins hockey team. In fact when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Dello Russo and his shop were featured in the centerfold of ESPN The Magazine.
“I met [former Bruin] Milan Lucic when he was 19 years old,” recalled Dello Russo. “He came in to the shop and waited in line and I had no idea who he was. We developed a relationship over time and he ended up moving next door to me on Fleet Street. We became good friends and I still talk to him on a regular basis.”
State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a rising star in the state legislature who represents the North End, is also a client. “Aaron sent me a gift basket for my tenth anniversary which I really appreciated,” said Dello Russo.
The shop offers haircuts, hairstylings, straight-edge shaves, and beard trims. Customers can purchase an array of Pomade hair care products at the shop. Haircuts are $24.
Dello Russo is commemorating the shop’s 10-year anniversary with a special promotion for clients: $10 haircuts for 10 straight days.
“All the proceeds go to NEADS.org (National Education for Assistance Dog Services),” said Dello Russo. “My sister, Sabrina, is running her third Boston Marathon and raising money for the same charity.”
The son of North End residents Bobby and Maria Dello Russo, he looks back at the ten years of building up a following at his shop with considerable pride at what he has accomplished.
“You always strive to be successful and have your place in the world where you’re remembered for something,” he said. “A legacy is what’s most important to me but I just never knew what I was going to do. It’s hard growing up in this neighborhood and trying to follow in different footsteps figuring out what I’m going to be. Am I going to remembered for something or am I just going to be?”