The founder of a new queer-friendly Black barbershop in Brooklyn wants to take the anxiety out of getting a haircut – and he’s booking up fast

Kadeem Woodson, founder and owner of Enkel's Barbershop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
is opening Enkel’s Barbershop to provide more comfort for queer customers. Kadeem Woodson
  • Barbershops have long been regarded as a sanctuary for Black men.
  • But many shops have not always welcomed the LGBTQ+ community, making grooming a necessary evil.
  • To help remedy this, Kadeem Woodson is opening his own shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kadeem Woodson was sitting in a barber’s chair when a homophobic slur (which starts with an ‘f’) cut through his peace. He cringed as a shop patron seasoned his anecdotes with the word.

“The ignorance was on 10 that day. I mean transphobia, homophobia, even about mental health,” Woodson, 29, told Insider. “I just got so fed up and I just asked the guy, ‘Can you not use that word, specifically?'”

But the patron antagonized Woodson leading to a tense moment the barber had to diffuse. “After years and years of those experiences and having to do the deep sigh every time I walked in,” Woodson said, “I just started researching what it would take to open up a shop myself.”

Barbershops have long been regarded as a sanctuary for Black men. For many Black fathers, taking their sons for their first haircut is considered a rite of passage. But the institution has not always welcomed the LGBTQ+ community, making grooming traditions a necessary evil for some.

A study by Smith College found that some Black, queer patrons who viewed themselves as “clockable” or easily detected as a homosexual would change their physical appearance and visit shops during off-peak hours to avoid uncomfortable situations.

To help remedy this, Woodson is opening his own shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn this weekend, Enkel’s Barbershop. During the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Woodson was laid off from his job as a copywriter for a fashion website, which accelerated his ambitions to open his own business.

A counter at Enkel's Barbershop in Brooklyn displays the shop's logo.
A counter at Enkel’s Barbershop in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Kadeem Woodson

“I had some severance and about five years’ worth of savings because I knew that the workforce wasn’t meant for me,” he said. “First I was going to start off small and get a suite within a building, but just from the positive reaction to the announcement of a barbershop of this kind, I figured I needed a storefront.”

Last summer, Woodson posted his plans to open Enkel’s on social media. He said people from London, Amsterdam, Atlanta, and other major cities responded to the posts saying they wish there was a shop like this in their neighborhood.

“That let me know it was a worldwide issue,” Woodson said. “It wasn’t necessarily a New York issue, because in my mind, the men here can be hyper-masculine. It really let me know my business is needed 10 times more.”

Enkel’s started off serving about a dozen patrons a week since its soft opening in April. Now, with the attention the shop has been getting from social media, Enkel’s serves a dozen customers a day.

By design, Enkel’s ambiance is calming. Brown, tufted leather barber’s chairs sit in the center of the shop. Shelves along the walls house skincare products, candles, and room sprays for sale. A large majesty palm sits in a corner near another shelf displaying dried flowers and vinyl records by such artists as Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder. A small bar cart offers libations for customers of age.

A brown, leather barber's chair sits in front of a small shelf holding vinyl records at Enkel's Barbershop.
A brown, leather barber’s chair sits in front of a small shelf holding vinyl records at Enkel’s Barbershop. Kadeem Woodson

“When I walk into my local barbershops, I’m anxiety-filled, I’m on edge, and I’m ready for anyone to say anything,” Woodson said. “So I wanted everything to feel calm and feel like home.”

Woodson, who doesn’t have a cosmetology background, hired two barbers and plans to bring on more as the business grows. The shop offers services that range from fades and beard trimming to facials and sew-ins, priced from $15 to $100. He said Enkel’s will also serve as a space for special neighborhood events such as block parties and community discussions.

“I’m really invested in getting a second location,” Woodson said. “I see now that this kind of shop is really needed.”