Dante Williams has been a barber for 27 years. It all started when he was just eleven years old and his father turned to him and said: It’s time to cut your own hair.
“My father and his ten brothers were all barbers when they were kids. Then, my brother and I learned too,” Dante said.
He learned to cut at eleven, but he learned to get clients at twelve. Dante remembers very clearly how he convinced his first client, his best friend Michael, to let him cut his hair. It wasn’t a perfect cut and that bothered him. At night Dante dreamed of the particular areas that were left to fix. The next day he called Michael back over to fix it. From there, he cut more and more friends hair.
“It kept me out of trouble,” said Dante. “There was a lot of trouble to get into. But the more I was encouraged to cut, the less time I had for trouble.”
Dante needed a barber shop, so he lined up five plastic lawn chairs in the basement with grey cuffed pillows on top. His brother helped him as they shared one pair of clippers. When the clippers got hot they’d ice it down and re-use them until they were older and could get another pair. Dante was in middle school and already known as the neighborhood barber. A role that he would always fill as he grew.
From Neighborhood to Neighborhood to Home
Cutting hair was always Dante’s side hustle, but Dante did hop around into different roles and places for a while. He looked at going to college but couldn’t justify taking on the student loan debt. Instead at 25, he got a real estate license. He went to cosmetology school to learn how to cut women’s hair. He dabbled in real estate investing while he continued to cut hair.
Dante said he learned a lot from the “school of hard knocks.” He opened his first barber shop in 2003 in Inkster. After about five years and a call to Christianity, he realized he wanted more of a purpose and a better culture for his business. He closed down the business, trying a second time and closing down again, before he made his way to Prosperus Detroit. Prosperus Detroit helped him sharpen his financials, take out a loan, and brought him to his next home.
“When I was taking the ProsperUS course in the area, I saw the building across the street from the BRDC. I contacted the owner. No sign, just reached out on faith,” he said. “When we walked through the building together I had an “Aha!” moment. I knew this was it.”
He took out a loan to purchase the space, but the loan wasn’t enough. He soon had to work up more strength to tackle opening his business again. Both Dante and his wife’s mother passed away within the year that he finished the program and found his new space. The day he looked at the building, his mother was very ill in the hospital. She passed away soon after.
It was a joyful and painful time for him, but Dante learned to honor his mother’s passing through his work.
“My mom was the entrepreneur of the house. She showed me that relationships were important. I saw her entrepreneurial spirit,” Dante said. “I learned to honor it by carrying on.”
Dante’s mother came to Detroit from Ohio after leaving an abusive family. Every position she ever held she worked her way to supervisor or executive, and she valued the people she worked with. She taught Dante to value relationships with others. Now, he felt even more motivated to open up for her.
“The more I began to work on it. The more I think I devote it to pleasing my mom,” he said. “My mom was tough. She always told me:Get the job done. We’re going to get this done.”
Those words must have echoed through to Dante as he carried through the grieving process to eventually rehab and open his barber store and cafe space in Grandmont Rosedale. Dante said he’s blessed to have a strong wife and five daughters to have helped them stay together strong as one family through all the tumultuous changes.
A Culture of Jazz & Love
Inside of Cutze Lounge is a large open space for the cafe. On one wall barber chairs are lined up and ready to serve you, whether you’re a man or woman, for a perfect haircut. Dante says he wanted a cafe space to help other entrepreneurs. The “CAFE” literally stands for cultivating aspiring future entrepreneurs. He hopes to spin it off as a nonprofit that lets other businesses pop-up and use space to open up in their market.
“If we don’t truly work together, we’ll never get anywhere,” he said. “That goes for entrepreneurs and the whole country.”
In the fast paced world of barber shop, sometimes barbers focus on themselves more and less on the customer. Dante hopes to change this by setting a tone for a space that is comfortable, clean, and provides a high quality service. He also provides unique jazz music, cultivating a diverse and relaxing environment. It's about the relationships for Dante, and music helps to bring people together to his space.
“The entire space has a modern but vintage appeal to it. It has a jazz undertone,” he says.
Ultimately as a very spiritual and loving person, Dante believes it comes down to giving back love and support to his neighbors. That is Dante’s own form of counseling at the neighborhood barber shop and cafe.
“I don’t want to just please customers, I want to amaze them. I want to bring that feeling back to barber shops,” he said.