When you walk into Razzle Dazzle Barber Shop, you’re instantly transported into a scene from the Christina Aguilera movie “Burlesque”. Deep red walls covered with images of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra flow down to meet a black and white tiled floor reminiscent of an elegant art deco hotel. The deep colors set the backdrop for Razzle Dazzle’s lovely female barbers dressed in black and red lace corsets and towering stiletto heels. Ornate gilded mirrors, a tasseled swing that hangs from the ceiling and deep, brocade-covered arm chairs give patrons the sensation of being in an opulent saloon or perhaps a plantation drawing room (minus the swing of course). The lone male barber stands quietly next to his barber chair, as if understanding that he’s not the main attraction.
I’m here to interview the owner, Elena Linares, for a blog that I contribute to occasionally, “Contra Viento y Marea” in Lourdes Ruiz-Toledo’s website http://www.LourdesSinLimites.net. I’m writing a series about women who have overcome great odds in their lives and can serve as inspirations to others. I’m told Elena’s is just the story I’m looking for.
As soon as I ask for her, a petite blonde with a big smile gives me a warm welcome. “It’s so nice to meet you! Would you mind grabbing a table at Starbuck’s and I’ll meet you there?” No problem, I reply and obediently head next door. Latte in hand, I grab the only empty table in the place, outside in the ninety degree heat. It’s the City of Miami’s birthday and Mary Brickell Village is packed with people enjoying the weather and the festivities.
A few minutes later, I watch Elena step outside the shop, but before she heads my way, I observe her shake hands with people along the way, zig-zagging back and forth between café tables, kissing and hugging her way through the crowd. The image of a small town mayor comes to mind. Well, a small town mayor in a sexy corset, fishnet stockings and rhinestones of course.
As soon as she arrives, she takes one look at my outside table, brushes aside my explanation that it was the only table available and says, “Oh no! Don’t worry honey, I’ll be right back.” Thirty seconds later, we are comfortably seated on a pair of stools inside. I realize early on in our conversation that this is a woman who makes things happen. Once she’s settled on her stool and has said good morning to each of the Starbuck’s servers by name, we begin the interview.
Elena’s parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx in New York when Elena was still very young. The middle of nine children, she recalls her upbringing as very strict, something that she resented at the time but now appreciates as she looks back upon it. Her parents must have been onto something as Elena isn’t the only success story in the family. Her oldest brother, Guillermo Linares, was the first Dominican born person elected to public office in the United States in 1991. He served as a New York City Councilman from 1992 to 2001 and continues his public service career. She considers him her mentor and there is no mistaking the pride in her voice as she speaks of him.
She attended Jamaica High School in Queens until a fight got her expelled. Even as a young girl, Elena always loved cutting and styling hair. Apparently, a girl whose hair she cut was unhappy and threatened to cut Elena’s face after school. When someone warned her, Elena and a friend got on the train to the Bronx, rounded up a bunch of girls and headed back to the school. Apparently, it was quite a brawl. “I did what I thought I had to do to defend myself,” she says with a shrug.
After the infamous fight, Elena ended up at Forest Hills High School. She had to take two trains and a long walk to get to school every day. She chafed under her parents’ strict rules. She wasn’t allowed to go to school dances or the movies and like most teenagers under those circumstances, she rebelled. Thinking she was gaining freedom, she married young. “I went from jail to a maximum security prison,” she says softly. “I found out that I was pregnant the first time he kicked me in the back.” She ended up in the emergency room where, after receiving the news that she was expecting, she was told that she had a 50/50 chance of losing the baby. Elena did her best to get the bed rest she needed to save her baby.
Her efforts rewarded, she had her child, a beautiful son whom she named Philip (with one L, she clarifies). She realized that she could not raise him in such an abusive environment. “This is where parents fail their children. They think that as long as the child isn’t receiving the blows they are alright, but they are so wrong! The child is being taught that abuse is acceptable and normal and it’s never, ever acceptable!”
In 1983, with the help of her older brother, Elena gathered her son, a backpack, $200 and got on a Greyhound bus headed to Miami. Once she’d arrived, she spent the next six months living in shelter with her son. “I consider this the lowest point of my life but also the most important point of my life. I promised myself that I would never again depend on anyone else for survival.” She sits a little straighter as she makes the statement. She beams with pride as she talks about raising Philip in a loving home. “Today my son is an amazing husband and father! He’s a golf pro and manages a menswear store.”
She soon found work at the Supercuts on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. To get to work she would take two buses to drop off her son at child care and one more bus to get to the salon. Her employers quickly recognized that special spark in Elena as well her amazing work ethic. Eventually they made her the bilingual educator for the company. She traveled doing hair shows and training. She became an integral part of the company’s East coast expansion, eventually being promoted to educate franchisees.
Seeing an opportunity, Elena opened her first Supercuts franchise on South Beach in 1989. She quickly took on two more locations, one in North Miami Beach and the other in Homestead. “At the time, South Beach wasn’t the hot spot it is now. The area was depressed and in some pockets even crime-ridden. I think they thought I was going to flop. I soon turned the three franchises into award-winning locations.”
Despite her success with the three franchise locations, she was unable to expand to additional locations within the South Florida area so she decided to branch out to Puerto Rico where she opened eight Supercuts. “I’d fly to Puerto Rico every week. I was working non-stop but really enjoying my success!”
In 1991, she met Mark Randazzo, a boxer who was in Miami training with Angelo Dundee. “He was a delight. He cooked for me every night. He was sweet and attentive. Everything my first husband wasn’t.” She smiles a little sadly at the recollection.
They were married in 1995. Elena and Mark have two children together, Linda Marie and Mark Anthony. “At this point I was content with my life and my marriage.”
After a time, they were approached by Jim Ferrero, a high profile lawyer, with the opportunity to open Randazzo’s, an Italian restaurant featuring home-style Italian cuisine. One of Ferrero’s conditions was that Elena sell her franchises. “He knew that in order for it to be successful, he needed my energy focused on the restaurant. He knew that I am promotionally savvy; everything I touch turns to gold. I’m like a freight train when I want to make something happen. I don’t believe in luck or shortcuts. You make your own destiny in this life.”
“Mark worked the back of the house and I worked the front of the house. The restaurant was an instant success and became like an extension of our home. We were really living the American dream.”
After ten years of marriage, Elena and Mark separated and divorced. Though it was a painful time for her, Elena brushes over it lightly, saying only that she will always be grateful to Mark for their two beautiful children and all of the good times that they had together.
In 2009, Elena opened Razzle Dazzle Barber Shop. “Never lose faith and trust in what God puts in your path. Even the moments that seem to be failures are just (part of the path). There are no boundaries, “los cielos estan abiertos” (the skies are open). When given an opportunity, I take those babies under my wings and fly with them.”
She positively glows when she talks about Razzle Dazzle. “The idea behind Razzle Dazzle is to pamper men in a flirty but wholesome, professional manner. It looks racy, but it really isn’t. We give men an old-fashioned barber shop with a woman’s touch. It’s a boudoir atmosphere, an oasis for men that takes them back to the old-days when men were allowed to be men. When they come in with their girlfriends or wives, we pamper the ladies even more than we do the men. We offer all of patrons a complimentary shot of white or brown sugar (Vodka or Whiskey). The men get one, the women get two!” Customers are also treated to warm lather neck shaves, just one more special touch Elena provides.
It’s easy to see what attracts gentlemen to Razzle Dazzle. While Rat Pack tunes play smoothly in the background, Enrique, one of the shops VIP members, gets a straight razor shave from one of the lovely ladies. “It’s not just a shave, it’s an experience. I feel catered to in a way I’m not catered to anywhere else. I feel comfortable and relaxed. It is like the gym or spa or local bar, everyone here knows you and treats you (like a king). Elena’s energy is infectious. Her work ethic and passion are limitless.”
It was her customers that encouraged Elena to take on yet another project. She is now working with a producer from Hollywood, California on a reality show based on Razzle Dazzle. The producer met Elena when he was in Miami doing a piece on “What is Hot and Happening in South Florida”. “We are performers, entertainers,” Elena says. “It makes sense.”
As I’m putting away my camera and notebook, I notice two ladies peering in through the window trying to get a picture of the barber shop. By this time I’m completely caught up in the charm of Razzle Dazzle and feel like part of the family, so I take it upon myself to invite them in so that they can get a better shot. They are tourists and love the look of the place. One lady tells the other, “If Dennis comes in here, he’ll never leave!” I beam proudly as if I have something to do with it.
I say my goodbyes to Elena and her staff and, as I’m heading out, I get one last image. A lovely Italian woman with her three children, two teenage daughters and a young son, stroll in. After oohing and ahhing over the décor and the swing, her son asks, “why is it decorated like this?” The tall blonde replies with a knowing look, “because she’s a lady and she knows what men like.”
While it is true that Elena Linares knows what men like, it is also true that she knows what it takes to be successful. She’s tough, determined and ambitious. She’s also full of joy and warmth. She’s had her share of pain and obstacles and has refused to let them get in the way of her dreams. She takes the time to know the people in her world and help them to succeed as well. She sums it up simply, “I look for the same spark I have in other people and I encourage it.”
Amid the “razzle dazzle” of her life, Elena still finds time to help victims of domestic abuse through her support of Safe Harbor (www.safeharborsc.org). So here’s to Elena Linares, a woman of steel with a heart of gold. May she continue to make all she touches shine.
For more information about Razzle Dazzle Barber Shop, please visit http://www.razzledazzlebarbershop.com/.