Chris Cook is a cut above the competition as his barber shop, JC Cook Barber Shop, sheared the competition for Best Barber Shop in 2019 Best of the Pine Belt voting.
Cook, 40, came by his profession honestly. As the shop’s Facebook page proudly proclaims, “the Cook name has been synonymous with barbering in the Pine Belt since the 1940s. I'm proud to carry on the family tradition in my shop since 2005.”
Cook’s great uncle, Van Cook, owned a shop at 19th and Hardy called Cook’s Barber Shop, which he purchased from a Mr. Weldy, Judge Weldy’s father. Cook’s grandfather, Jake, worked for Van for a little while before moving down the street and opening his own shop, Cook’s, at the University Mall Shopping Center. The shop, which was purchased by Jake Cook’s first employee, continues to operate under the same name down from Baskin Robbins.
But barbering wasn’t Chris Cook’s first choice for a career field. With plans to attend college to become an accountant before making his way to law school, Cook was three semesters into college when he began wondering if that’s what he really wanted to do with his life. His grandfather suggested trying barber school.
“He told me if I didn’t like it, they’d help me get into something else,” Cook said. “Twenty-one years later, here I am.”
Cook attended barber school at Hinds Community College where both his great uncle and grandfather had attended.
“I figured if I was going to follow in their footsteps, I’d start from the beginning,” he said.
The program, which is 1,500 hours, took Cook about 14 months to complete.
“The program is part of Hinds’ vo-tech program, and you have to take a state licensing exam in order to get your license and that’s it, but 1,5000 hours, that’s a lot of school,” he said.
His barbering education started out for the first few weeks in a classroom, at which time students were given mannequin heads with shoulder-length hair.
“We practiced cutting on it until there was nothing left,” he laughed. “We cut paper, learned to perm, color and highlight, all that kind of stuff.”
He explained that after they’d cut on the mannequin for a while and instructors felt they were ready, they’d put the students out on the floor to give customers 50-cent haircuts.
“I did a lot of 50-cent haircuts,” he said.
Cook worked under the guidance of his grandfather before opening his own shop 21 years ago. These days you’ll find him at work 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 7 a.m. until noon Saturday in his shop at Liberty Center on Old Hwy. 11.
Although Cook signed a lease two weeks prior to Hurricane Katrina, it wasn’t until the end of the year before he opened. “It was difficult to nail down workers to hang sheetrock and put down floors because they were busy repairing people’s houses,” he said.
Cook worked for his grandfather from 1998 until he opened his shop in 2005.
The shop has one additional employee, Brett Brock, who has been on board for about a year. “He’s a great addition to the shop,” Cook said. “Before that I’d worked eight years by myself. I was really busy and just wearing myself out.”
Cook’s grandfather came to work with him when he sold his shop.
“He sold his shop in 2006 and came to work with me until 2008,” Cook said. “I joked with him that he started out as my boss and I got to be his boss later.
“He was tough to work for, but he gave me a really good work ethic. I always told him, ‘You’re the best grandfather a kid
could ever ask for, but you’re the worst boss I ever had.’”
Cook’s clientele is mostly men, although he does have a couple of women who wear clipper cuts. And he’s cut hair of all ages – from seven months up to Van Chambers at 105 years old.
He said the business has changed through the years; just like with clothes, hairstyles cycle.
“When I started, Justin Bieber was popular and everybody had that hair hanging down in their face, and covering their ears,” he said. “These days a lot of guys are going with the really short clipper cut with hard parts. But I’ve seen everything in between. I guess I just try and stay relevant.”
Barbering is a trade that has blessed Cook’s life tremendously. “I could have gone to college and gotten my degree and a law degree, but the living I make is comfortable,” he said. “I can support my family, and it’s pretty low stress. I don’t take work home with me, I’m my own boss and love people. I have 20 different conversations a day with people who get in the chair..’
“To win Best of the Pine Belt is really humbling to me,” he said. “Our families have put in a lot of years of work, not that I need any validation. It is humbling that enough people around think enough of me and my family and what we’ve done. That means a lot to me.
“I think this is my calling. Everybody is made for certain things and I just think I’m doing what God called me to do.”