Ontario barbershop shows 'gratitude' by letting people pay for haircuts with food

Rosso Barber-o Shop operates three Ontario locations in Woodstock, Ingersoll and Stratford.

Rosso Villamil (centre) runs his barbershop with his two sons, Leonardo and Santiago, as well as other family members and barbers. (Photo via @rossobarberoshop_woodstock on Instagram)
Rosso Villamil (centre) runs his barbershop with his two sons, Leonardo and Santiago, as well as other family members and barbers. (Photo via @rossobarberoshop_woodstock on Instagram)

A family-run barbershop in Ontario is hoping to show "gratitude" to customers by accepting unusual forms of payment for haircuts.

Last week, Rosso Barber-o Shop owner Rosso Villamil felt like having a bit of fun after a man called his Stratford, Ont. location inquiring about prices. Feeling "adventurous," Villamil initially told the customer, 36-year-old factory worker Justin Newhook, that he could pay what he could for the haircut or even get the service for free, as a first-time patron.

When Newhook asked how much would be acceptable to pay, Villamil suggested he could even pay with potatoes and beef — or anything he wanted.

"They hung up and the guy came in walking with a bag of potatoes and some ground beef," one of Villamil's sons, Santiago, told Yahoo Canada. "And my dad did it happily. The point was more the service rather than the payment."

It's an act of kindness that's not unusual for Villamil. Since opening his barbershop's first location in Woodstock, Ont. on July 2, 2020 — followed by two more southwestern Ontario shops in Ingersoll and Stratford — he's made it a point to give back to the community.

The first case happened when someone came to get a haircut for a job interview but couldn't afford to pay for it. Villamil decided to give them a free haircut, and the person ended up getting hired.

On Christmas Eve in 2020, one of the busiest times for barbers, Villamil also chose to offer free haircuts as a gift, since it was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Villamil was planning the Feb. 7, 2023 grand opening for his Stratford location, his son, Santiago, said he was also planning to offer the same promotion for an entire month: Get a free haircut or pay what you'd like to pay.

"He wanted to try a little experiment," said Santiago, who also works at the barbershop for his father. "He wanted to give a message to tell people ... 'It's not about the money. It's about this, serving people. It's about interacting and really connecting with a person.

"In our experience, whenever we have done that, because we've done it in the past, we actually end up with more. It's just like a little step of faith."

Unfortunately, Santiago said the city surprised his father with various "loopholes" a day before they were set to open, despite preparing to launch the location several months before. On top of their two other locations, Santiago said they were struggling financially and were working with "really tight circumstances," so they had to forego the free haircuts.

But since bartering a trade with Newhook followed by more customers who've offered meals like tacos and shepherd's pie, Santiago said his father and the rest of his family are ready to get back to sticking by their slogan.

"It's truly a family business, and my dad taught all of us," Santiago shared. "When people see that we're truly a family business, I believe they want to support us because they like the fact that it's a true family business, not a corporation.

"For my dad, one of his biggest inspiration was his father. My grandfather, he's the whole reason why our slogan exists, 'born to serve.'"

Going forward, Santiago said his father is thinking of having one day a month where customers can get haircuts in exchange for non-perishable food donations. Then, the Rosso Barber-o Shop team will take those food items and bring them to people in need in their community.

"The one thing that I really want to drive home, more than anything, is that message: 'Born to serve,'" Santiago shared. "We have it in our slogan, we tell people, 'This is why we do the thing that we do.' When we do service, we do it with all of our best energy.

"I really do think that when we serve others, we feel fulfilled. I think people need to be fulfilled and we should serve each other."

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