Like father like son like grandson, Del’s Barber Shop is old school and proud of it.
“It’s pretty much the same old barber shop,” said Jason Engelbrecht, now large and in charge of the 4-barber shop on S. Escondido Boulevard next to Lourdes Restaurant and its famous chicken soup. “We try not to change anything.”
One would be hard-pressed to find another blast from the past anywhere in San Diego County like this, and the formula for success continues to ring true. On any given day, except Monday and Tuesday when dark, the shop is filled with customers and no barber chair goes unfilled for more than a fleeting moment.
Yet, times they are a’changing. Dan Engelbrecht retired on April Fool’s Day, no joke, deciding it was time to turn in his clippers, turn over the keys and head off into another chapter of life.
With a Jerry Seinfeld delivery, Engelbrecht dead-pans, “I retired April Fools Day, What an appropriate day since I’ve been fooling them for 42 years.”
Rimshot. But seriously, “I came to this decision gradually,” he continued, “When is a good time to retire? I’m 65 and nothing ever remains the same.”
The transition has been smooth, Engelbrecht said. “Jason is doing a very good job. It’s going well.”
Living la vida loco now, Engelbrecht and Patti, his wife of 44 years, just got back from Port Townsend Washington a lovely tourist town northwest of Seattle where “we visited my sisters and I did some fishing,” he said. As for Patti, “I think I’ll just try to stay out of her way. My kids bought me a ’65 Mustang not totally restored, so that’s my little project.”
This was a rare return to forever for Engelbrecht as he swept into the shop on a not-so-quiet Friday afternoon wearing his trademark straw hat and never-ending grin. Customers greeted him like a rock star or pro athlete. He started sweeping up the floor just as he had done for the past four decades not missing a beat. And the beat went on.
“You can take the man out of the barber shop, but you can’t take the barber shop out of the man,” said one of the many regulars ringing the store’s circumference in chairs. What do you expect when the price board lists haircuts for $16 and shampoos for $7400. “They’re really good shampoos,” Jason Engelbrecht said from barber chair No. 1 with a wry grin as he snipped a young customer’s brown locks.
Meanwhile, Dan Engelbrecht, who lives near Escondido Country Club, as he has many times before, is a whirlwind of energy shaking hands and greeting customers old and just met well.
“It’s pretty old school here and you can get a sense of history when you’re here,” Engelbrecht said, adding with a laugh, “and they fill you with a lot of bad advice.
“I really like the people here,” Engelbrecht continued, “all the different, interesting personalities. You come to work every day and see a ton of friends. you just don’t know which friends. the conversation is generally acceptable. I hear a lot about sports, politics, and try to become semi-literate.”
Like returning baseball stars to their home field, Del’s has three customers who have been coming since doors opened in 1959, according to Engelbrecht. Those would would be Earl Doughty and brothers Jerry and Dick Smith.
Associate barbers stay for decades, working two feet apart, eight hours a day, so it’s important to have a great rapport and play well with others. People can get haircuts in lots of places, but at Del’s they also get the show.
An orchestra of barbers, Jason Engelbrecht cuts from the lead chair closest to the reception area with magazines and newspapers randomly strewn. Second chair belongs to Al Straucheri, a 33-year veteran of the shop.
Then, there’s Josh Paoli, three years at Del’s although 16 years in barbering. The fourth, and final chair, belongs to newcomer Patrick McPhail, who began April 1, to round out the barber shop quartet considering Engelbrecht’s retirement.
“You work your whole life and they replace you with a 26-year-old who does a better job,” Engelbrecht said with, you guessed it, a laugh.
Typical of customers who came and went throughout the day, Mike Sherman, an SDG&E utilities worker from Southwest Escondido was waiting amiably from his cutting call to come.
“I used to come here as a kid for summer vacation,” he said. “I got out if the service in (19)75 and have been coming here ever since, I like the fellowship and they’re not too expensive,” he continued and paused, “Yet.” Laughter from several customers in chairs.
Haircuts were $3 when Engelbrecht started. “My dad was a great guy,” he said. “Hew as one of the funniest guys I ever knew. He moved to Escondido and worked for Mike Axman on Kalmia Street from 1954 to 1959.“
In 1959, “An opportunity opened up for his own business here at 8th and 9th Street and Escondido Boulevard.” Engelbrecht said. His dad, the Del of Del’s origin story died at age 82 in December 2010.
Given the history of the shop, one great event has come to define its image, locally and nationwide. After a lengthy interview and selection process Miller Lite Beer chose the shop as a featured venue for its 2010 Super Bowl commercial. That’s the equivalent of going viral in the small business world.
“A customer’s sister-in-law was hired by Miller High Life to find four small businesses to appear in the commercial,” Engelbrecht said “They came out in September to explore what we we were going to do.”
During the first week of January 2010, production personnel checked out the shop again and got to filming. “It was amazing,” Engelbrecht said, “I even wound up on the local news channels. It was something special.”
The 30-second, $3 million Super Bowl commercial featuring Engelbrecht, the barber shop and then-celebrity Miller deliveryman actor Windell Middlebrooks was pretty memorable and may even have saved the barber shop in a way.
“When the economy slowed down from 2008 to 2011, the Super Bowl commercial propelled us,” Engelbrecht said. “We skipped the recession and I’ve been drinking Miller High Life ever since.”
Engelbrecht lived on the San Marcos border growing up and graduated from San Marcos High. Jason graduated from Escondido High and Palomar College.
Jason has a 10 year old boy. Who knows. “My grandson says he wants to be a barber,” engelbrecht said. “His mom says he can be anything he wants to be after he gets his engineering degree.”
Don’t tell any of the customers streaming through about that engineering deal, though. They seem to think the place will live on forever and then some..
Del’s Barber Shop is at 650 S Escondido Blvd. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. It can be reached at (760) 743-9770.