The Louisville barbershop Beards & Beers has a modern vibe, but behind the craft beers and hipster aesthetic is a long family tradition in the barber profession.
“We have a great sense of pride in what we do and who we are, where we’re taking this career,” says Melissa Gray, Master Barber and owner of Beards & Beers. “I know when my dad was 14 years old and decided to be a barber I don’t think he ever thought it would go as far as it has. I think he’s pretty proud of us.”
Melissa’s father, Billy Gray, owns The Razor’s Edge in Elizabethtown. Billy’s father was a barber, too. “My grandfather was in the military and that is where he was issued his barber kit,” says Melissa, explaining that he cut hair for the men he served with. “In between wars, he worked as a barber. I have his barber kit…. My aunt gave me that the first Thanksgiving that we were open here. She said she knew he’d want me to have it. I didn’t even know it still existed. It’s a pretty interesting kit…it was really neat to get to have that.”
Catherine Gray is the fourth generation of barbers in the Gray family. She works alongside Melissa at Beards & Beers.
“I didn’t think my daughter would want to be a barber,” says Melissa. “I think she wanted to be a teacher and then a nurse and so the fact that she wants to carry on the family tradition makes me very proud. She’s doing an amazing job. This is not a traditional barbershop in all that we do here and she contributes a lot to that end. If I didn’t have her here we wouldn’t be who we are today.”
Melissa and Catherine both received their formal education at Tri-City Barber College, the country’s oldest continuously operating barber school.
“Steve [Kennedy] was my instructor,” says Catherine. “He was also my mom’s instructor and he is one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life. He was like a second dad. He pushed me to be better.”
“I’m very proud of Melissa and Catherine and what they’ve done with this new shop,” says Kennedy. “I’ll be quite honest, when she came to me with her idea, I’ve had several barbers try to open shops where they had beer in their shop and they were never successful. To her credit, Melissa didn’t stop. She got a business plan together and pushed and pushed, and she’s got a very, very successful business going right now. I think my greatest satisfaction owning this school is seeing people like Melissa and Catherine not only graduate, and not only get a good job, but also move on and open their own place and help other people.”
“My goal in all of this and what I wanted to do was to create an awesome environment for men to come get their grooming services done and to hang out and for barbers to work in,” says Melissa. “I love what I do. I enjoy it, but I also really want to give back to the barbers in this profession.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life season 24, episode 4, which originally aired on October 27, 2018. Watch the full episode.