For the longest time, coffee and barber shops have been considered places at the community’s center. They aren’t quite home and they aren't quite work, but third places to meet friends or family and relax. They are environments of local culture and community, where both can flourish in a neutral place. In the last few years, hybrid establishments boasting espresso machines, drip filter makers, clippers, and trimmers have been breaking ground all over the world and doing well.
Located in downtown Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, Austin Arreola runs his business Refined Barber. The shop combines great coffee and great haircuts in one location. Refined Barber has been building a great reputation for itself since it opened in 2017. Here we have an interview with Arreola about his hybrid shop and where he gained his passion for both specialties. On the official website, it states that the shop is “a place where you come to slow down, build relationships, and experience quality and professionalism.” The interview has been edited for clarity.
What came first, your passion for barbering or coffee? And how did it come about?
I’d say I first learned what an artistic passion was through coffee. Which is actually quite interesting because I had dabbled with cutting hair long before I started working in coffee but didn’t professionally go into hair a couple years ago.
I was a barista at a shop called Coffee Hound in Bloomington, Illinois. It opened my eyes to specialty coffee. I learned just how many different factors go into pulling a delightful espresso and how one wrong step can taint the entire experience. But that is what’s so beautiful about coffee and what makes it an art... There are factors that we have control over and some that we don’t, so it literally challenges an individual physically and emotionally, and I believe that’s what drive artists. And then you add the community of a team of baristas and the culture of a down to earth coffee shop and you have a place where passion and purpose THRIVE. That’s where I fell in love with it. Manning the bar on an incredibly busy Saturday morning, shots are on point, pours are on point, regulars are back once again, and you feel alive. Somewhere along the line that passion transpired into cutting hair and now I like to mix the two.
What’s been your biggest learning curve of opening up a barber/coffee shop?
You truly have to have grit and grind like no other to get things going, and it’s tempting to keep that pace, but you just can’t. What I’ve had to learn and still am learning is that I need sufficient rest to be my best. Also, utilize your resources. Time and energy = money. There are people who do things that I need doing way better than I can so I had to learn how to give up control and use my connections. Which also means paying others who are professional at what they do to help you get to where you’re going. You just can’t do everything yourself no matter how talented you are and sometimes the time that it would take you to do the task isn’t worth it when a professional can get it done 5 times quicker.
What’s your favorite brew method and why?
I don’t really know if there is such a thing. Basically, anything but the French press. Cone filters ruled the world for a while and you have to have a Chemex or V60 in your home or office. But recently the flat bottom has made a lot of sense to me, Kalita and Fellow Stagg. Fellows aesthetics are killer and the end result is as well.
What is your daily work routine like?
I am usually caffeinated by the time I get to work. Either by a homebrew method or the coffee shop next door to my barbershop. To be honest I haven’t gotten into brewing coffee in my shop because I usually like to enjoy it elsewhere before I get to work.
I start at 8 every day and work off of an appointment only calendar. I take a break at noon, start back up at 1 and end by 5. I feel like I have a really well-structured schedule while it is also laid back. When I’m working I’m working but I make sure to give myself proper breaks and end at a good time so I can go home like the rest of my clients.
I pour myself out into everything I do in the shop, it’s my art and my craft. So like I had said before, I have learned to make sure to give myself proper time to recharge and be my best.
What’s the plan for the future?
I get asked this question daily, my response, I have no idea. I say that half jokingly but also in seriousness. Of course, I know it is responsible to have your 5-year plan written out along with goals, and I do have a loose outline of that. But when it comes to expanding or growing, I’m not sure if I want to do that. I’d rather go deeper. I have very strong relationships with my clients because I have ample time to connect with them and not a lot of other distractions within my shop. I do know I’d like to grow my current studio/work space into a space that hosts more of my art down the line. As for what that art might be apart from barbering and coffee, I’m not sure.
I’m very aware of the luxury I have of being my own boss and making all of the decisions along with my wife. And it’s not something that I take for granted, I feel honored to be where I’m at. It’s always a temptation for me to look on to what the next bigger and better thing for me to acquire, so for now I will do my best to stay humble, stay grounded, and wake up every day grateful with the privilege of doing what I love to do as a career.
Thank you again for the great interview!
All photos used were provided by the owner.
You can find Arreola at his own website here.To see what Refined Barber is doing on a daily basis, you can check out the shop’s Instagram here.