A Barber’s Battle

August 2020 View more

By Emma Wolf

Despite the many family members and friends who doubted his ability to build his own business from the ground up, Mackhard Barber Shoppe owner Steven Matthews successfully did just that.

“Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I learned the value of a dollar at a young age,” Matthews said. “Not getting discouraged is key. You have to pretend like someone is trying to take it all away from you.”

His early struggles didn’t stop Matthews from fighting hard in life—both metaphorically and literally. Before barbering, the Chicago Golden Gloves heavyweight title holder spent nearly 20 years as a kickboxer and mixed martial arts fighter, but stopped both after suffering severe head trauma.

“I miss the rush. I have a need for adrenaline that I only get from kickboxing and MMA fighting,” Matthews says. “Now I go to the gym instead. It clears my head.”

Despite his capabilities and athleticism, Matthews has found his true calling in barbering. But the COVID-19 pandemic is a new opponent he is fighting to save his three barbershops in Naperville, Downers Grove, and Elmhurst. Since the March stay-at-home order the revenue at his barbershops has dropped more than $40,000.

“This was definitely the most eye-opening experience since I opened shop 10 years ago,” Matthews says. “It’s terrible to see how my staff has suffered during this time.”

Despite the difficulties his Naperville shop has faced during the pandemic, Matthews has persevered, remaining determined to see his business grow through it all. “Naperville is one of my favorite locations to have a shop in and I am very grateful that it survived through this,” Matthews says

“Naperville residents have donated to my shop with everything from encouraging texts and phone calls to gift cards. It fuels me to keep going.”
In addition to barbering, Matthews does everything from cleaning to ordering products in his three Mackhard shops, but he also has managers for each of his stores to help with the daily operations. “Cutting hair helps me build personal relationships with my clients. It makes me feel like a part of the community,” Matthews says. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Many people say they admire Matthews’s ambition and the way he has overcome obstacles. “I enjoy Steve’s services because I get a quality haircut in a short amount of time,” Mackhard Barber Shoppe customer Jonathan Maloney says. “I always leave feeling GQ-inspired.”

Not only is Matthews a part of the community outside the shops, but he is also a part of the community inside it.

“Steve is fair with everything he does and he is generous with his employees,” Downers Grove Mackhard Barber Shoppe manager and barber Maria Ayala says. “He’s extremely driven and is always looking to grow his brand.”

No matter how much his business grows, Matthews always stays humble and remembers where he came from. “I’ve closed as many stores as I’ve opened. My main goal is not to make money, but to create careers for my employees,” Matthews says. “In my position, I significantly impact people.”

Working an average of 12 to 15 hours a day is exhausting—Matthews makes sure to spend time at each of his three stores daily. He also has his own brand of men’s hair and grooming products, including his signature best-selling pomade. “Between my three shops, I sell roughly 4,265 jars of pomade each year,” Matthews says.

Because of Matthews’s work ethic and humility, the Mackhard name—which Matthews defines as “exuding an undeniably dapper aura”—continues to live on, just as the fight in Matthews continues to defeat the odds.

Photos Courtesy Mackhard Barber Shoppe