Frank's Chop Shop - Michael Malbon - Extended Interview
For the first issue of The Kayo Magazine we interviewed Frank's Chop Shop founder Michael Malbon about the Frank's Chop Shop X DGK collaboration. We were only able to fit a small excerpt of what Mike said in the mag, so check out the full interview below.
Tell us a little bit about your history, how did you get into the business?
My history in apparel runs deep, like all the way back to 432F trade show, the first "streetwear" trade show before ASR – or at least within the same time frame. Only a hand full of people that are in the game today were around then. I came into all this through a retail shop I started in the early 90's in Virginia. I was dealing with Wu Wear, Project Dragon, Betsy Johnson, ECHO Unlimited, and the underground mixtapes, spray caps, mags, videos etc – buying for the shop allowed me to hit all the trade shows and NYC show rooms which opened many doors for me to be where I am at today. With all my connections around the world, I decided that a barber shop would be the ideal hub where I can stay connected with people as well as offer a service that at the end of the day everyone needs. Long story short, I've been through hell and back in the streetwear game and know exactly what I need to do with my current brand Frank's Chop Shop, so I make calculated moves as to who I fuck with in the game; naturally DGK was a no brainer.
What was the initial inspiration behind opening Frank's Chop Shop?
Honestly it's pretty simple. I wanted a place to call home where the balls are in my court, so when I'm out and about globally mixing and mingling with the who's who of basically every genre; I can say "wow, that sounds like a great idea. When you're in NYC next time come by for a cut and a shave on the house and let's make something happen."
How did Frank's evolve into a brand as well as a barber shop, at what point did you decide to create a line?
FCS has turned into a global destination like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty on an NYC historical level, and at the same time an iconic business on a level like Supreme, Alife, Katz deli, etc in the LES. It's only natural that we have products for sale here so when you stop through the shop you can pick up something for back home or to rock here in the city if you’re a regular.
Combining a barber shop and a retail space is a unique and original concept - how do each of the two dynamics of the shop compliment each other?
Very easy – you come with your homes to watch him get a cut and end up getting hats, jewelry, our mercy, etc and while you come to pick up the new styles of our brand, you see the vibe of this place and make an appointment for a later date. Who would not want to make an appointment for a cut after visiting the shop and seeing Mr.Bee giving GZA or Joey Bada$$ a shape up, and at the same time seeing Hiro, Kevin, Yuke,or one of the other barbers doing a scissor cut or straight razor shave to Anderson Cooper, Bruce Willis, etc? It's not all about celebs, it's just a cool vibe here. We cater to all.
Frank's seems to maintain an old school barber aesthetic, how does that play into your overall vision of both the shop and the brand?
Frank’s Chop Shop serves as a full-service barbershop and retail space located at 19 Essex Street in New York’s famous Lower East Side. With four vintage barber chairs, some of the city’s best barbers and our focus on creating an environment where friends, colleagues, and business associates will feel relaxed and comfortable; we offer haircuts, shape ups, and old-fashioned straight edge razor shaves. We are proud to provide a space where some of the city’s best with a shear & clippers can practice the time honored art of barbering, providing a high end grooming experience to the modern gentleman of leisure.
You are located in the LES, which is a historic and famous area of NYC. How does the culture of the neighborhood play into what you're doing at Frank's?
This is the best question by far! This hood is the last untouched place in NYC. Not for nothing, but NO ONE comes to this area unless they're coming to see us, and please believe they're skeptical; especially when the cab driver can't even say he knows exactly where it is. Without a doubt, when they get here they're in for the experience. Most are sketched out by the dope heads, can recyclers, crusty squatters, and our personal favorite – Earl, the local legend gangster with a brain tumor who sometimes greets our guests with the same question to everyone “do you know Michelle?” But believe when you make it in the door, you get the Chop Shop experience and when you get walked out by your barber, you feel as if you are untouchable and are a regular in the neighborhood. That's how we hold down our guests.
Who are some of the famous people that have come through Frank's and who is the most interesting person that you've met there?
We've had them all here – from rappers, to socialites, to scumbags, to rich douche bags – the best of the best. From Wall Street to action sport all-stars, we’ve had them all. But I would have to say the best visit was from Kramer. He came in and asked if we had any availabilities, and we were all booked up so we had to deny him. I just think this guy is the king of hair on primetime TV, so it sucked we could not fit him in, but goes to show that no matter who you are we would never bump a customer for a celeb; we just don't get down like that – an appointment is an appointment.
When and how did you first become aware of DGK?
Man, I've known Stevie for practically decades. At the end of the day real recognizes real with me. I hate to use that over used analogy but it's simply true when it comes to guys like Stevie. Years later him and the DGK team are regulars at the shop, ball the fuck out when we in the same town at the clubs and are always looking to strengthen our bond through collaborations like this.
What about DGK appeals to you and how does it tie into what Frank's Chop Shop does?
At the end of the day we're two very well connected brands that have known about each other for years and have both made progress in a vast arena of global situations, so this is an easy no brainer that we put our PR, social media, sales, party promotion skills together on and make shit pop!
How did the collaboration with DGK come about and what was the inspiration behind it?
As I said earlier about Stevie and the DGK team, they have been coming to the shop for years, but all props on this one goes to Eli Gold and Troy as we first started talking about this project – Stevie, DGK, Kayo, we're feeling it, so it's on!
I've gotta ask you about your concierge service because that's something that I haven't heard about anyone else doing yet. You arrange everything from aerial tours of the city to bachelor parties. Where did this idea come from and how hard was it to pull the resources to put a service like this together? Also what's the craziest story from a night that you put together or what's the craziest concierge request that you've ever gotten?
At the end of the day through my wild lifestyle and all access situations, I have met the crème de la crème of some of the richest guys out there. I started to realize that it was lazy of me to only offer them a cut when they are ready to spend 50k at a club in one night, but without the right connects they could get stuck waiting in line at the door. Going though us this don’t happen. Basically the shit we take for granted is very valuable and sought after, so I decided to put a little note on the site. Price is TBD, all depends on how green / hungry the client may be. At the end of the day, I’ve been doing this for free for years. If I can get one or two custies a month off this all-access concierge service thing then that’s an extra 10-15k a month. Why not right? Its mostly the club hustle, we just make a call or two and tell the owner or promoter that our people are going to buy ten bottles or whatever and we charge the client a percentage and get a kickback from the club as well. It’s a win win situation.
You obviously have your hand in many ventures under the Frank's Chop Shop banner, what's next? Are there any upcoming plans that you can share with us?
Just slow motion for now, like the OG BIG said, “mo money, o problems.” I just sit here on 19 Essex Street and wait for dope opportunities like this to literally fall in my lap.
Last question, what advice would you give to a young person reading this that's looking to start their own business and wants to become successful with it?
Pick a trade and stay focussed 'til the end. Not many have the grind nor more importantly the personality or charisma to be the next big thing. IE, not just anyone can be a pro skater, but if that’s your grind then basically skate, party, and do your thing; but keep in mind that chances are slim. Same shit goes with my little homeys that rap. It ain’t all good out here so pick a trade / profession that you can fall back on if shit don’t pan out. I think barber school is a good look. If you finish your schooling you can get a job the next day with your license in hand. No real debt, no job hunting, you can smoke weed, have tattoos, have your own steez, make your own schedule, etc.