Six decades, styling four generations: Johnny's continues to 'make the cut'
When Joyce Morgan moved to Massachusetts a few months ago, she knew it would be hard to say goodbye to Johnny’s & Co. After all, Joyce, as one of Johnny’s longest customers, had been going there to get her hair done since she moved to town — 52 years ago.
So hard was it to say goodbye, in fact, that Joyce found she was unable to do it.
Instead, after trying a few places in her new neighborhood, Joyce continues to drive to Johnny’s when she needs a haircut — more than an hour and a half drive each way.
“I cannot live without Johnny’s,” she said.
John Delmonaco used used to do Joyce’s hair himself when she wore it closer cropped, but when she moved over to curls and styling, her hair is now done by Maria Shapiro — niece of John and his wife, Lucille.
What makes Johnny’s so special?
“They’re very accommodating — once I was going on a trip and I needed my hair done before I went to the airport, and I think she (Maria) came in at 8 o’clock,” she said.
“I think that’s big — I don’t know where else you would get that,” Joyce said. She added that they are very good at accommodating customers’ wishes about hair styling while giving clients guidance.
Lucille said many of their clients have been coming to Johnny’s as long as Joyce has. She said in some cases he has cut four generations of family’s hair, from great-grandfather, to grandfather, to father, to son, which happens when you’ve been cutting hair as long as John Delmonaco has.
“The grandparents bring their grandkids in and they say, ‘This is where I used to get my hair cut when I was a child,” John said.
In July, it will be 61 years since John cut his first head of hair in Darien. He began in a different location in Darien, eventually owning a shop further down Heights Road, with a stint of Lucille opening Doughnut Inn in between. Eventually the couple settled their salon in their current home at 320 Heights Road.
Lucille has been with Johnny for 40 years, working the back office, putting everything together, “including the space we are in now,” she said. She is a 40-year veteran barber, and a 37-year veteran realtor.
Though the current shop has a salon side and a children’s fun area, including flat screen television, whimsical decor and fun salon seats like airplanes, etc. John says it is important to retain the barbershop feel, to give little children their first real experience.
“It’s so important important to have that barbershop image for these little guys, because they are going to remember this experience for the rest of their lives,” he said.
After 61 years, about how many “little guys’ haircuts has John performed? After careful calculation by Lucille, multiplying by weeks, then by years — they’ve numbered more than a million.
How did John get into hair cutting? Shortly after getting out of the service, he decided to learn a trade — and that trade was learning to cut hair.
“The instructor said to me, you’ve got a natural ability for cutting hair. I had only been doing it for two weeks. He said, you should stick with it — you’d be very good at it, so that’s what I did” John said.
“And I enjoy it — I enjoy being with the people. I enjoy seeing the satisfaction on their faces when they walk out. I’ve never gotten a complaint from anyone. So I said, this is for me,” he said.
“Time goes on, one day goes into another, and you get better at it,” John said.
And the people he’s worked on have made it even better.
“The people of Darien have been absolutely fantastic. I can't ask for a better place to work, and this the only place I’ve worked — I’ve been here in the Heights all this time.” he said.
“I can’t enough good things about Darien — and the satisfaction you get out of seeing these kids walking out of here with a big smile on their faces, and not only them but their mothers and their fathers also,” John said.
Once they see their hair cuts, he said, they say, “We’re coming here from now on.”
“That’s what keeps you going. That’s what gets you up in the morning and makes you want to go to work — satisfying people,” he said.
In his time, Johnny has cut many notable clients’ hair — including the children of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.
Johnny’s impact on Darien is more than just on its hair. An accomplished trumpet player, Johnny’s band has, throughout the years, played at numerous Darien police and fire dances, school proms, cotillions and many other events.
Janice Marzano, long-time Darien Depot program manager, has known John Delmonaco for years — and given the Depot is just about across the street from Johnny’s, she said she’s spent a lot of time there in the past — even if it’s just chatting.
She said her sons also got their hair cut there.
“Johnny is a wonderful person,” she said.
“Really — Johnny IS Darien,” she said.
Life-long Darien native and active downtown developer David Genovese noted that Johnny’s is one of Darien’s longest running businesses.
“I think that the reason that Johnny has survived and thrived is because of his willingness to evolve with the times. Johnny’s renovation of his Noroton Heights shop a few years ago, when he added the flat screen TV's and the kids' section, really distinguished his business in town,” he said.
“Customers expect more from us all the time, and their tastes change. In today's day and age, it's not a good idea to simply keep doing what you have been doing for decades, hoping it will continue to work,” he said.
“We have to constantly be thinking about how to evolve in our approach to business. Johnny gets that,” he said.
The salon has recently gone through some changes, including losing some long-time hair stylists — but Johnny and Lucille want the town to know the shop continues to thrive with talented and dedicated stylists, both new, and veterans, like niece Maria and son Craig. Johnny also added that all clients are welcome — new, continuing and returning.
During the Delmonacos’ talk with the Darien Times, Joyce Morgan headed out the door, to head back to her now long ride home back to Massachusetts from her favorite salon.
She gave Maria, John and Lucille a hug.
“This time,” Joyce said, “it isn’t goodbye — it’s ‘See you next time!’”