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• Feb 13, 2024

Damian Johnson and his twin brother, Jermaine, are the embodiment of the American Dream – they started out cutting each other's hair in their kitchen as young boys in Buffalo, New York, to founding No Grease!, a multi-million-dollar company and the first Black-owned franchise barbershop in the country.

But their most important professional legacy may be the more than 3,000 graduates of their barbershop school in Charlotte, North Carolina, and friends throughout their lives who have established their own careers because of the Johnsons' mentorship.

"Mentorship is the key to success," Damian said. "If you've got a good mentor, then you can navigate through storms that you just wouldn't know were coming. Great mentorship and great relationships can help you navigate through the journey. It's so humbling when you know you've been a part of so many people's lives."

No Grease!, based in Charlotte, is a proud TD Bank customer. The brothers opened their first barbershop in 1997, the barbershop school in 2003, and its first franchise in 2017. Currently, it has 13 locations in four different states and the training school for barbers.

"Mentorship has been my lifeline," Jermaine said. "My actions in business are the result of many backstage rehearsals with mentors that I know personally and others that I know only through studying them by way of reading, watching an interview or just Googling the people that inspire me."

The power of mentors and giving back

Damian and Jermaine met their first mentor and role model the day they were born — their mother, Ann Elizabeth Johnson, who raised them as a single parent. She was a hair stylist and entrepreneur who taught her sons very important lessons for business success.

"We learned a lot growing up, just watching my mom," Damian said. "It was just so many lessons about work ethic, about customer service, about dealing with people, (and) the relationships she's built."

The twin brothers came to Charlotte to attend Johnson C. Smith University. During his time at the university, Damian wrote his senior paper about strategic marketing in the barber industry, and thus the seeds for No Grease! were planted.

Damian met his second mentor Michael Gordon, who had a barber shop in Charlotte. "He mentored me as a young man." Damian said. "He really kept me focused on my goals. He steered me in the direction of buying real estate. He steered us in the direction of being mentors."

No Grease! opened their first location in 1997. Along the way, they encouraged friends to move to Charlotte from Buffalo to collaborate with them and build the business. After growing so much, they sold their first location. In 2003, they repurchased it to open their barbershop school.

One of the best memories for Damian was the pride his mother felt as she got to see their success before her death.

"She was very proud when we opened up the one barber shop," Damian said. "So, when she got to see us open up multiple shops, she just always smiled. She remembered those days in the kitchen in Buffalo, New York, when we were doing each other's hair and watching her (work so hard). It all paid off as we took it to the next level."

Damian and Jermaine have big dreams for the future, and plan to expand into other states and eventually in Africa. They look forward to working with TD Bank to continue building their business.

Damian and Jermaine with their mother
Damian and Jermaine with their mother
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"No Grease! is truly a pillar in the community we serve, this is evident by multiple awards and testimonials from lives that have been touched," said Ehiwario Frank Onyeajam, TD Bank Vice President and Relationship Manager in Charlotte who works directly with the Johnsons. "TD Bank is proud to be No Grease!'s bank, providing trusted advisory services as they expand nationally."

He noted how the values of the bank and company are so similar in terms of their presence in communities.

"No Grease!'s community commitment creates a synergy that aligns with what TD Bank stands for in the communities we serve," he explained. "When you listen to the captivating story of how No Grease! started, you'll hear a lot about passion, work ethic, care, a vision to not only be successful but to empower everyone around the brand and anyone who comes through the doors of the trade school."

No matter what they achieve, the Johnson brothers will never forget their mission of helping others also achieve success.

"We're taking the blueprint and we're sharing it with our barbers and everyone around us," Damian said. "That means focusing on building some type of wealth for your family, which is real estate, focused on your community, building some type of mentorship program where you're paying for it by giving it back to the young entrepreneurs (and) young men and women. My mentorship, my mentees are my legacy."

Learn more below about two men whose professional lives were transformed by their relationship with the Johnson brothers.

The road from Buffalo to franchise owner in Charlotte

David Powell, Jr., grew up in Buffalo in the same neighborhood as the Johnson brothers, but never met them until he went to visit friends and family at Johnson C. Smith University before he was a student. Like the Johnson brothers, David's mother was also a hair stylist, and he started cutting hair at a young age.

David majored in sports management at the university. But he decided to take a chance and go into the barbershop industry with the Johnsons.

After meeting Damian, "from there, it just became a 'big brother, little brother' type of relationship," David said. "The reason why I initially teamed up with Damian and Jermaine was we had the same views on what we wanted to do. I wanted to have multiple shops, and I knew he had multiple shops."

Today, David is the owner and operator of the first No Grease! franchise shop, located in Mosaic Village in the Beatties Ford area of Charlotte.

"I love them genuinely," David said of the Johnson brothers. "We identify with each other, we come from the same place. It only made sense to join a team like that."

From the first haircut to working at the barbershop

Tristan Walker has been a barber for three years at the No Grease! barbershop in Mosaic Village. He doesn't remember the first time he met Damian. That's because he was only a year old when Damian gave him his first haircut ever. Tristan's mother knew Damian as they went to college together. Years later, she saw a Facebook post from Damian about the barbershop school, so she suggested that her son enroll.

"When I attended the school, I saw how welcoming they are, how excited they are to build up young men and young women around the area," Tristan said. "I just I felt the love as soon as I came to the school."

Tristan has focused on living out the lessons he learned at the school in his professional life.

"The business side of being a barber, because it's more than just standing by your chair, cutting hair," he said. "You have to be able to own your chair and be able to put yourself in the best position to be the best entrepreneur you can possibly be."

Tristan has big dreams for the future, much like his mentors, the Johnsons.

"One day, I'd like to be an owner of a No Grease! location," he said. "Right now, my short-term goal is just to build my chair up, build my clientele, and figure out ways that I can grow myself for others around me."

Tristan also shares the same value of giving back that he learned from the Johnsons.

"Three years ago, I was new to the game and the people that were in front of me helped me get to the point that I am now. So, I'm just trying to reciprocate that and keep it going."

Want to learn more about Black History Month?
From One Generation to the Next: Empowering Black Families to Build Wealth and Prosperity
Rose Staram: The Entrepreneurial Journey from Tax Accounting to Event Planning Success
TD Bank's Community Mortgage Loan Officers Making Homeownership Dreams a Reality

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