The main man at Johnny's Barber Shop is Ruben Graham — a craftsman with scissors and a razor, a barber's barber for more than 50 years. Not to mention, he's one of most genuinely pleasant people you'll ever meet.
There's often a wait at this classic two-man barber shop on Taos' main drag, but Ruben is the reason why. For years Taos guys have been saying he's worth it; Johnny's has won the "Best Barber" accolade since the first issue of Best of Taos in 1999.
"I call him 'The Legend,' " said co-master barber Jerome Ortega, "because everyone in Taos knows him and he knows everyone. He's just a friendly guy and everyone loves him."
October 2017 marked Ruben's 52nd year of cutting men's hair. He got his barber's license in 1965 and began his career in Albuquerque. Two years later, Ruben (a born and bred Taoseño) returned to Taos County and opened a shop in Questa where he remained for about 18 years. He joined the staff at Johnny's to work with the shop's original owner, Johnny Tafoya, who opened it in 1968. In 1998, Ruben bought the business after Johnny retired.
Ruben didn't change the name out of respect for Johnny and because the place and the name are Taos icons. Besides replacing the original waiting chairs years ago, adding wall decor here and there, and updating the TV, not much has changed inside this barber shop, including the customers.
The morning of this interview, he cut the locks of a 93-year-old gentleman who has sat in Ruben's chair since 1967. And Gus, the gentleman sitting in Ruben's chair during the interview, habitually drives in from Questa for a haircut.
And Ruben remembers every face, every head of hair and, yes, even how long they have been coming to him. He takes pride in what he does, and when thinking about his repeat customers, his mustache twitches from his signature, genuine grin.
"I love that," he said of his long-timers. "I really do."
Besides his skill and memory related to how all of his customers like their hair sheered and coifed, the reason he believes they keep coming back is because his love for his profession shows. Jerome agrees and hopes to follow in Ruben's footsteps.
"I watch what he does on some of the customers just because I know the day's going to come where he has to retire, and hopefully I could pick up where he left off," Jerome said.
Ruben does a lot of the older gentleman's haircuts because he has a regular clientele. But if a youngster walks in, that's when Jerome gets to show his skills.
"I like doing the fades and the sideways haircuts — the new-style haircuts," he explained. "We want more of the younger crowd to start coming in, so we get a mixture of both the older crowd and the younger crowd."
The native Questaño has cut hair for a decade. For seven years, Jerome was co-owner of Deuces Barber Shop in Albuquerque alongside his brother. The 1995 Questa High School graduate wanted to bring his wife (also a Questa native) and two sons back to the old stomping grounds, so his brother bought him out. Upon his return, he had some clients in Questa but was looking for more. Come this November, it will be Jerome's two-year anniversary at Johnny's.
"I'm very happy to be here in Taos," he said. "Coming here ... it's just a lot busier, a lot more tourists, a lot more people coming in."
Johnny's is open six days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The shop use to close an hour earlier, but Jerome took it upon himself to keep the shop open until 6 p.m. He also opens it on Mondays and Thursdays, days Ruben typically kept the shop closed. Jerome will even come in on Sundays if he gets more than a few haircut requests. He's "a busy guy" now, and that's how he likes it.
With Ruben's firm legacy and Jerome's ambition, there's little doubt Johnny's Barber Shop will continue its Best of Taos run.
Johnny's Barber Shop
308-A Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos