Old-time barbering, anytime

Owner operates 24-hour shop to be available to all

 

 

While the rest of the city sleeps, the barber is waiting.


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Kenny Bryant is sitting with arms crossed under the fluorescent lights of his three-chair barbershop, thinking someone somewhere could use a trim at 2 a.m.

When it's slow, he'll sprawl out across the row of seats where customers wait during the day and doze off. Or he'll flip through the infomercials and late night talk shows until he hears the "tap, tap, tap" on the shop's door.

"They tap on the door, want a cut, I take care of them," Bryant said. "Five minutes after they're gone, I lock the door and I'm right back to sleep."

For two years, Bryant has manned Kenny's 24 Hour Barber Service in the Old Towne Plaza off Broad Street from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.

At 60 years old, Bryant says he is one of the last of the old generation of barbers, who have the hunger for the business and treat customers right.

His philosophy is simple: Not everyone can make it to the barbershop while the sun is out. And men care about looking fresh more than they'd like to admit, he said.

"Nine to five is gone," Bryant said. "It's gone. But people look at me like I'm from Mars. People would ask me '24 hours? You cut hair 24 hours?' I just say barbering is what I really love."

Sometimes it's the shaggy truck driver passing through Augusta at 3 a.m. who notices his gleaming, neon "open" sign and stops by for a trim off the top and a clean shave. Other nights, it's the kids on their way to the clubs who stop in for a skinny fade.

Some nights there aren't many people scouring the town for a haircut in the moonlight. That doesn't matter. Bryant will still be waiting with a sharp tie and a crisp shirt finished with cufflinks at his wrists under his barber jacket, even if it's for just one customer.

"I'm successful for making the night," he said. "It's a personal thing for me. You're here to make money, but sometimes you don't. You're successful when you make the time."

Untamed hair

Growing up in Fayetteville, N.C., Bryant learned the value of a good cut early on. His mother was Indian and his father was black, and genetics left him with a wild, untamable head of hair, he said.

Barbers could never do the job, so at 13 years old he'd stand in front of the mirror and fix his part and cut himself a flat top with his father looking on.

"Now that's right," his father would say.

Soon he was cutting hair for the neighborhood kids and earning a few dollars to take some of his 13 brothers and sisters to the shops and "hook them up."

Before he was old enough for a bank account, the feeling of earning the dollar felt better than sitting in school and turning in book reports. Hard work became his philosophy and earning money the goal.

Between cutting hair, he helped his grandfather "do a grown man's job" and cut pine slabs for $7 a day in a North Carolina wood shop.

When he graduated high school in 1969, Bryant joined a community action organization and helped youth groups and senior citizens, cutting hair on weekends, of course.

By 1976, he was a full-time barber with his own shop in Fayetteville. At this point he was raising three sons, who today are all barbers like their father.

"I never encouraged it," Bryant insists. "They just saw what barbering can do for you."

In 1981, he needed a change and chose Augusta as his catalyst.

With him he brought the old-school values of barbering and full intent to pass it to the guys who work for him.

"The younger guys, they're good at what they do, but they don't have the hunger," Bryant said of barbers today. "Older barbers basically had it down. They had the work down. They're gonna put the hours in."

Mike Williams, one of three barbers working day shifts for Bryant, has caught on to his mentor's values.

Williams listens and smiles as his client talks and dresses clean and sharp, as does his boss, who wouldn't have it any other way.

"I just love it altogether," Williams said. "I love the craft. I like to see people's faces when you're done. Makes me feel good to make someone else happy."

Customers want to talk. They don't want to hear about the barber's issues, Bryant always says.

That's how Bryant treated Jerome Furlow, a new customer who heard of Bryant through church. Furlow stopped in for a cut at 10 p.m.

Bryant welcomed Furlow to the barber chair, listened to the rundown of his day and filled silences with comments about young kids today.

"That's just people," Bryant says.

When Bryant finishes his shift and Williams takes over, he heads home for a shower and a nap and shifts from barber to gospel singer.

Choir

While the guys run the shop during the day, Bryant is at Greater Young Zion Baptist Church leading the 80-member choir as minister of music.

It's the only thing he has been doing longer than barbering, with half a century of gospel singing behind him.

Both have been with him through his move through the South and loves that fell apart.

"The shop is my wife. She can't say I don't spend enough time."

By January, Bryant hopes to open a second 24-hour barber shop near Fort Gordon to serve military members who appreciate a good cut after hours.

For now, he's happy being the man people can call on at any hour during the night. It's why he went into barbering and why he has no plans to quit.

"It's not about the money," he said. "When I'm gone, they're gonna remember Mr. Kenny. They're going to say 'Mr. Kenny? He's all right.' Everyone should be living for that.

Kenny Bryant

BUSINESS: Kenny's 24 Hour Barber Service

AGE: 60

BORN: Fayetteville, N.C.

FAMILY: Three sons: Qwame, 33, Kenny Jr., 40, Reginald 39

HOBBIES: Gospel singing, barbering, guitar

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