Milan Dennie of King Milan’s Barbershop

The St. Paul barber helps families in need with free “back to school” haircuts

Milan Dennie of King Milan's Barbershop cutting a boy's hair.
Milan Dennie

photo by

david ellis

Milan Dennie owns and operates King Milan’s Barbershop in St. Paul, where he’s continued a tradition he started in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, offering free haircuts for kids on Labor Day. (Last year he and his staff did more than 300 cuts in about 12 hours.) He’s also an alternate barber for the Twins baseball team.

“I grew up in Gary, Indiana, and we didn’t really have much in our household. But all I wanted was some crayons and a coloring book. That taught me to blend hair. That’s how I discovered my art.”

“I started cutting hair when I was 11 and finally went to school at the age of 19. I moved to St. Paul in December 2014 and opened my business about three days later. I came here to start a new life.”

“Minnesota isn’t a hair state compared to places like Detroit, Gary, and Chicago. Those are hair capitals. You don’t hear about big hair shows in Minnesota, but in Indiana and Detroit they’re all over, and it’s really competitive.”

“Kids want to mimic the different entertainers and styles they see on TV, and so we offer those haircuts. They’re able to go back to school looking like a LeBron James—well, not LeBron, he’s bald! But you’ve got to keep up with what’s popular. With haircuts, history pretty much repeats itself. They might call it a different name, but it’s the same stuff.”

“These days, people are wearing mohawks with graphic designs. Graphics are like putting graffiti art in your hair. I say ‘graffiti’ because a lot of the designs we do are created freestyle. Pretty much everything I do is to wow people. I don’t see anything they do around here that’s like mine.”

“My tools are simple. I use two adjustable clippers and two liners to do the edge of the hair lining and make it crispy. I use different sized guards for different hair lengths. The guard goes over the actual blade and it protects you from taking off too much.”

“You sometimes get people who feel like you’re a magician. They think you can make them look a certain way or put hair in places where there’s no hair. I had a guy a few days ago who was getting cowlicks in the corners. I had to explain to him that he was going bald. Some people can’t deal with it. They’re stuck in thinking they have something they don’t.”

“We are counselors to our customers to a certain extent because people open up to us. I’ve had customers come in crying because they’ve lost their job or they’re going through a family problem. I’ve heard some of it all. To me, it’s just being a listening ear. What stays in the barbershop stays in the barbershop. People are comfortable talking to me because they know it’s not going to become gossip.” 

“Some parents have four or five kids. After getting school clothes and supplies, it can be pretty challenging for the parent to come up with another $100 to pay for four or five kids’ haircuts. I love to see the kids prepared for success. They might be mad because they’re going back to school, but they’re prepared.” 

“I try to stay focused on being positive and helping the kids to learn. I talk to them about their grades, how they’re doing in school, and how they treat their families. I ask them questions and reflect back on my past experiences of growing up in a very poor neighborhood. A lot of them will open up to me. I try to keep them focused on gaining job experience, building careers, and discovering their gifts and talents at an early age.” 

“The head of security for the Minnesota Twins started coming to my shop because he’d heard about the day of free haircuts in the news. He asked if I’d be interested in being one of the team’s alternate barbers. Right now, if the regular barber has an emergency and can’t make it, then I can come in and still service the players. I’m hoping to get a call sooner or later. They gave me a jacket that says, ‘Milan: Master Barber, Minnesota Twins.’ It felt good to put that on.”