Local barbershop exemplifies Black excellence
Houston White is an ambitious, focused, and multifaceted entrepreneur that grew up in North Minneapolis. He established the Houston White Men’s Room (HWMR) in 2007, located in the vibrant and welcoming, Camden neighborhood.
The mission and purpose of HWMR is to “hopefully be an example, be exemplary, to be an example of what’s possible, inspire, and really be like a mecca of Black excellence not only in Minnesota but in America,” said White.
White loves his neighborhood. “Ever since I was little, I’ve always had an affinity for Camden—44th Avenue is like Grand Avenue and then our Summit Avenue is Victory Memorial Parkway, [in St. Paul] so this is, in my opinion, the next Grand and Summit except its Northside,” said White.
HWMR is directly across the street from North Market. White emphasized that “every neighborhood has the same challenge,” and stressed the importance of figuring out how to improve the neighborhood “without displacing the people.”
White is originally from Jackson, Mississippi and grew up in North Minneapolis. “I went to Lincoln, then Northeast and North High,” said White. His entrepreneurial journey began at an early age.
To elaborate, White said, “I started selling t-shirts in elementary [school] originally. I was about 10 or 11 years old.” At the time, White designed and painted articles of clothing. Years later, he attended North High and expanded his product line.
White further recalled, “It was something I call a business in a backpack. I had everything, incense—t-shirts.” He also provided fresh haircuts out of his barbershop, located in the basement of his home. “This [HWMR] is just a mature version of what I was doing as a kid,” said White.
Since opening in 2007, the business has “matured into a brand that sits under my name and all these things are connected to it,” White said.
When customers visit HWMR, they will experience a swanky barbershop that showcases his popular fashion line with coined phrases; Be the Change (BTC) and Black Excellence (BE). There’s also a quaint coffee bar stocked with their new, signature Good Time Coffee (GTC).
The BTC and BE clothing lines exemplify class and sophistication. White started the brand seven years ago when he created the very first shirt. “I’m a preppy-street, Black dude,” White said of his style. He added, “I’m a big fan of black and white photography, Gordon Parks, timeless aesthetics.” His style is prevalent in the BTC and BE clothing.
In addition to apparel, customers also have a plethora of items to choose from. White said, “Everything from suit jackets to lapel pins, sportswear, golf, tennis clothes; we have a pretty wide carry of product assortment.” They also carry bags and t-shirts. The price range is “$15-200, just depends,” White said.
Most recently, White launched Get Down Coffee. He developed a business partnership with his friend Dan Anderson, the founder of Dogwood Coffee. “We call it a sibling coffee company,” White said.
There’s an interesting history that surrounds the process of their signature, flavorful and unique coffee. “Specialty coffee has become an uppity business and I really—I don’t see culture. So, what’s Blacker than hip hop?” asked White. “I really wanted to bring some culture into coffee.”
White encourages everyone to stop by for the “morning time coffee happy hour.” He said the most popular coffee is “the Drip Drip-Cardi B.” Patrons can also purchase Turntable and “King Kunta” coffee. The price range is $17 to $23 a bag.
White explains that “Drip Drip is more on the lighter side while Turntable is more potent and pungent. Customers can also purchase GDC merchandise. He will be expanding the line in the future.
Unfortunately, like many local businesses, the COVID pandemic has caused disruption. “Revenue dropped significantly,” said White. Although there have been financial hardships, he remained resilient. “We’re making it; thank God we are,” said White. “We’ve got some grants, so it’s been good in that respect.”
Although there are trying times in business, White said that seeing people buying Black Excellence shirts has been a rewarding aspect. He’s grateful for the support.
Some companies have bought into the Camdentown vision as well. White established business partnerships with major retailers like Target and J.C. Penney that carry his brand of clothing.
The MSR asked White about the most enjoyable aspect of being an entrepreneur. He replied, “The process of taking an idea and transforming it—creating opportunities and jobs.”
He added, “There’s no limit. It’s not easy; entrepreneurship is the style right now—it’s like skinny pants.” But White emphasized that running a business “isn’t a game.”
White also shared advice for youth and upcoming entrepreneurs: “The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is to write things down,” he said and added to “bet big on yourself.”
Houston White Men’s Room is located at 1500 N. 44th Ave., in Minneapolis. The hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm.
For more info about HWMR, visit www.houstonwhite.co or call 612-361-2151.