When Gregg Dillard opened Southern Barber in 2018, he began living his dream.
After graduating from Portland High School in 1996, he began a career in tool and dye. He worked in Nashville at Vaughn Manufacturing for about 20 years. Most of that time, he dreamed of being a barber.
His dream was so real to him that he began going to the International Barber and Style school. After working eight to 10 hours at the tool and dye job, he would go to the school from 3 until 8 p.m. After he finished his school day, he had the drive from Nashville to Portland facing him, but he was determined to make his dream come true.
Once he passed his state board exams, he began working as a barber at Monty’s in downtown Nashville. He worked there for four years with Monty becoming his friend and mentor. It was Monty who encouraged him to open his own place in Portland.
His dream came true when he opened Southern Barber in the old remodeled Fred White Grocery Store building. Local businessman Al McFadden had purchased the building and divided it into several suites for businesses. Dillard rented Suite B of the building. He started with three chairs and later added a fourth.
When the space in the front became available, McFadden approached Dillard about moving into that space. Dillard said he had not thought of moving his shop to a bigger place, but McFadden worked with him to make it happen. Recently, a ribbon cutting was held by the Portland Chamber of Commerce at the new location.
Dillard credits his wife Heather with being a big part of the move. After working in Nashville all day, she would join him as they worked to turn the new space into a barber shop.
“My wife has been such a supporter and big help. I needed her. She has put so many hours in here with me. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
The interior of the barber shop is unique. Dillard describes it as a footstep of his life. He grew up in the car scene enjoying hotrods and bikes, which is why he chose to decorate in a vintage retro style.
Walking into the shop is like walking into the past. There are car parts from several eras hanging on the wall. The cost of the various services is written on a 1940 car hood hanging on the wall.
Two customers brought their old model motorcycles to display. There is an old bicycle in the corner. Skateboards hang on the wall separating the barber station mirrors. An old jukebox that once played 45s stands against the wall streaming music during the work day. Dillard gutted it and the jukebox now streams music through the Internet running off the original speakers. The side room has a similar decor along with a pool table for customers to enjoy.
Dillard features haircuts and straight razor shaves which can take up to an hour and a half, which is why he works from appointments. He has the only shop in the area that offers straight razor shaves. His customers are local with others coming from surrounding towns Some come as far as Nashville to his shop. The four barbers do a lot of vintage-style haircuts.
Dillard operates his business based on his own experiences. He went to everyplace he could in Nashville to get his hair cut. He always felt the barbers were rushing to get finished. He developed the philosophy of not rushing. He wants barbers at Southern Barber to take their time and get to know the people.
He said, “We live in a fast-paced world. People want instant gratification. If I can slow a man down for an hour and a half, that’s a good thing. We can’t do a shave and haircut in 10 minutes. That’s why I take appointments. People don’t have time to sit and wait.”
Will Jones, Tommy Ringo, and Drake Richard are the other three barbers. They rent their booths from Dillard. He said he feels that it is easy to keep good barbers when they don’t have to give the owner a commission on their work. Ringo is helping the shop develop its own line of products. He has created beard balm, beard oil, and CBD salve under the name of Southern Barber/Tennessee Woodman which is available for purchase at the shop. The shop sells Suavecito products.
“I would like to thank everyone for supporting us and making it happen - it is a dream come true. I hope I’m cutting hair until I can’t cut anymore,” Dillard said.
Dillard is married to Heather (Latimer) Dillard and they have three children - Brooke (16), Aidan (10), and Zoey (9).