University Hairstylists a family affair

Author: Gene Stowe

The Emmons clan, from left: Aaron and Katy Austin, who are moving to Kentucky in January. Katy’s brother is married to Robyn Emmons Stone, in turquoise, the oldest of the Emmons children. Seated, patriarch Jeff Emmons with wife Cindy; Zak Emmons, owner and manager of University Hairstylists, and at far right, Abby Emmons Mullins, who’s currently on maternity leave--she’s expecting triplets! The Emmons clan, from left: Aaron and Katy Austin, who are moving to Kentucky in January. Katy’s brother is married to Robyn Emmons Stone, in turquoise, the oldest of the Emmons children. Seated, patriarch Jeff Emmons with wife Cindy; Zak Emmons, owner and manager of University Hairstylists, and at far right, Abby Emmons Mullins, who’s currently on maternity leave—she’s expecting triplets!

Jeff Emmons was cutting hair at somebody else’s salon in the late 1970s when a friend who worked at Notre Dame told him that the University was planning to open a hair salon for women, just a few years after the campus went coeducational.

Emmons bid on the job and won.

“We started off in Badin Hall,” he remembers. “There was a shoe store and an eight-chair barbershop. They took four of the barber chairs out. We put partitions down the middle of the room and I started hairstyling on the other side.”

The business grew from three chairs to five to seven, incorporating a mop room and closets as they outgrew the space. When the men’s barber retired, Emmons took over that side, recruiting family members—and coworkers who became like family—to meet the growing demand. The business relocated to the basement of LaFortune Student Center after a mid-1980s renovation.

They were so busy that Emmons’ wife, Cindy, a registered nurse, moved into hairstyling, followed in time by their son Zak, daughter Robyn Stone, Robyn’s husband Andy for a while, Andy’s sister Katy Austin, and the youngest Emmons daughter, Abby, who recently went on maternity leave—she’s expecting triplets.

Zak Emmons was already studying at Vogue School of Beauty in the afternoons when he graduated from Mishawaka High School in 1996. Today he’s the owner/manager of the campus salon. Zak’s sisters, Molly and Caitlin, are in other businesses. Another sister, Sarah, is a professional hair model for Redken.

Notre Dame permitted Emmons to serve off-campus customers, but as the business grew in the early 1980s, he opened another shop in South Bend to handle the overflow and avoid conflicts with campus parking and traffic. Equipment moved from the old Notre Dame shop, including a shoeshine chair, furnishes Jeff ’s on Lincoln Way (1316 Lincoln Way E., Mishawaka), where he moved about 15 years ago.

Emmons, who graduated from Mishawaka High School in 1963, worked his way through Indiana State University (tuition: $6.50 per credit hour) by cutting hair at $1 per head. His father had hired an Italian barber from Elkhart to teach him the trade. He earned a degree in geology, served a stint in the military and worked in business for a while before returning to the chair full time. In addition to his businesses, Emmons recently became the first elected school board official in Mishawaka.

University Hairstylists, located in the basement of LaFortune, sees a rare variety of customers, from guys from one-stoplight towns who’ve never been to another barber (and are shocked at the $16 rate for a man’s haircut) to cosmopolitans from coastal cities who’ve never paid less than $30.

And although the shop is centrally located on campus, customers are never taken for granted. “Just because you’re on campus, you’re not guaranteed the business. You have to do a good job,” says Emmons.

Of the salon business, he says, “It’s really been a great experience for my family. My kids grew up sweeping the floor, folding towels and collecting change from under the pop machine. Half of them have become hairstylists. It’s been a very blessed business. Notre Dame has always been our family, and I’m glad my family can carry on the business here.”

They deal every day with people—students, faculty—who are stressed, Emmons adds. “Getting your hair done should be a relaxing experience. We want people to leave feeling better than when they came in.”

For more information and a price list, visit universityhairstylists.com, 631-5144.