Tucked away in a parking lot on Main Street in Frisco is a barber shop. The door is wide open; laughter and conversation echo from inside in defiance of the rainy afternoon. The store’s interior is molded by the community around it; one wall is hand-painted with an enormous mural by a friend of the shop owner.
A diverse group of regular customers line the benches near the front door, carrying on conversation with the shop’s owner, Rodregius Smith. He is a tall, friendly-looking man whose kind demeanor pervades the space as he makes time to listen intently to every customer who speaks with him.
Mr. Smith, better known by his nickname “Brooklyn,” owns and operates Da Nu U Barber Shop in Frisco. He has cut hair since he was in high school, and has been a licensed barber since before he graduated from college in 1999.
In Frisco, Mr. Smith is a man of the community, known best for his Back To School Extravaganza, a yearly event for kids to get free school supplies, food and fun hosted at Da Nu U. All of the supplies and food are paid for out of pocket by Mr. Smith, though he does receive some donations from regular customers. “We really want to send kids back to school in a positive manner,” Mr. Smith says. “We want to get them in the mindset that school is fun.”
Mr. Smith’s goodwill is known to his customers, as well. Jeff Forbish, a Da Nu U regular, first met Mr. Smith four years ago when he came in for a haircut. Mr. Forbish’s mother-in-law had recently passed away, and during his haircut, the men starting talking about loss and how to move on. Mr. Forbish remembers coming back to the shop for another cut later because he felt that Mr. Smith genuinely cared for him and his well-being.
Mr. Forbish was further impressed with Mr. Smith’s work in the community, and recalls the barber always talking about giving back … always on the move with a new plan to help someone out. “He is probably one-of-a-kind,” Mr. Forbish shares. “He believes in what he is doing and he never stops moving.”
Though Mr. Smith’s community outreach brings him praise, it certainly is not all he is known for. Da Nu U is more than just a storefront for Mr. Smith; it represents a lifelong passion for barbering that has developed into a skill he loves to apply.
Born in 1979, in the New York city he is nicknamed after, Mr. Smith has wanted to do two things with his life: play basketball and cut hair. Though he had always wanted to play ball, he learned about the barbering trade from Mr. Cunningham, a family friend and Tenn. man Mr. Smith described as “Southern to the T.”
Mr. Smith met Mr. Cunningham during his sixth grade summer on a visit to see family in Tenn. He remembers sitting in the older man’s shop for hours, watching him work and asking as many questions as he could. Mr. Cunningham never turned him away and the pair hit it off. “I knew that was what I wanted to do the moment I saw him working,” Mr. Smith says. “It sounds corny, but it is true.”
By high school, Mr. Smith’s characteristic drive to reach his goals had landed him a spot on the Lincoln High School basketball team. To pursue both his passions at once, he cut his teammates’ hair for free after practice. By this time, Mr. Smith was also a few years into a relationship with his now wife, Taura, who he met in junior high.
As time passed and Mr. Smith honed both of his crafts, he began charging small fees for haircuts and building a reputation for himself. His years of hard work for the Lincoln High team earned him a full-ride scholarship to Saint John’s University in Queens, N.Y., where he attended school from 1995 to 2000.
At Saint John’s, Mr. Smith played his heart out for the basketball team while practicing his skills as a barber. By then, he was charging $10 per haircut and building a brand for himself under the concept of “Da Nu U,” though he would not open a storefront for several years. “When I turn you around after we finish that haircut, it is like bam! That is a new you!” he says.
By 1999, Mr. Smith was nearing graduation. Traveling with the basketball team had shown him a world far beyond what he knew, but he craved the one-on-one interactions between a barber and a client.
Spurred on by that feeling, Mr. Smith took his test to become a barber that same year, before he had even graduated college. Shortly after, he was working in shops as an independent barber, trying to build his brand. He remembers doing schoolwork until it was time for practice, then going straight from there back to the barber shop to cut hair. He was so busy, he even coined the phrase “If you don’t move your feet, you can’t eat.”
In 2000, Mr. Smith graduated from Saint John’s with a bachelor’s degree in business and a minor in psychology, and worked as a barber until 2006, when he moved to Texas to be closer to his mother. She had moved down to be closer to her military husband, but had developed back problems, and Mr. Smith wanted to be there for her.
It was here, in Dallas, that Mr. Smith opened the first Da Nu U storefront. He recalls trying a variety of things to grow his presence, including ordering pizzas to the shop to feed clientele. He even put on a back to school event similar to the one he hosts now. “You feed their kids while they wait, and then you make your money back at the end of the day,” he says.
In 2013, Mr. Smith’s store was broken into and vandalized. The thieves took his tools, televisions from the waiting room and more. He opened up the next week, but after another break-in, he was looking for a new place to open up shop.
Mr. Smith was living in Frisco around 2013 after building a home. By then, he was married and had three children: Kameryn, Kaleb and Khalil. He remembers feeling as though he was growing roots in Frisco. His children were playing football here and he loved the environment and people of the city. He opened Da Nu U in Frisco that same year and has not looked back since. “Blessings happen in different ways,” he
says. “Those break-ins forced me to move my shop, but I am so glad at how it turned out.”
Since opening in Frisco, Mr. Smith has made a name for himself as both a pillar of the community and an excellent barber. Da Nu U has served a variety of professional athletes, including Corey Coleman of the National Football League and Eric Snow of the National Basketball Association. Even Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney is known to frequent the shop. Da Nu U also appeared in the “Randy Moss” episode of the Dallas Cowboys’ documentary series “Deep Blue.”
Looking to the future, Mr. Smith wants to expand his business by moving to a bigger space in Frisco. He is also looking to create an online space for the Back to School Extravaganza and to continue serving his community. “I have been so blessed,” he says. “I just want to give back.”
Bailey Herring is a writer, dog lover and student at the University of North Texas.