By Cecilla Chan, GSN Managing Editor

In many ways, Nico’s in Gilbert is a traditional barbershop with its hot lather, steamed towels and straight-edged razors, down to the iconic red-white-and-blue pole.

But there’s a twist to this shop’s business model. Each time a customer gets his hair cut, a hungry child is fed.

“It’s always been on my mind to do something we really care about,” said Rajiv Patel, who opened the shop with his wife, Chelsea Patel, and a partner in New York. “We wanted to build up a good culture with the business. We wanted to do something that would last, something unique.”

Since its March opening, Nico’s has donated money to fund 6,400 meals for Feed My Starving Children, a global nonprofit organization with a food-packing center in Mesa.

Giving back to the community was always in mind as the couple planned the business and developed its motto – “Look Good. Do Good,” according to Patel.

The 33-year-old Gilbert resident said Feed My Starving Children was chosen because he and his family have volunteered there for a number of years with their church group from the South Higley Stake.

The Christian nonprofit distributes dried, fortified meals to malnourished children around the world.

The organization offers three different food formulas that include soy protein and dried vegetables for its MannaPack, which takes water or milk to re-hydrate. Each meal packet contains six to 12 servings, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Patel said 1 percent from each $25 haircut at Nico’s is donated to Feed My Starving Children at the end of each month.

“The cost of the meal is 22 cents to feed one person,” Patel explained.

In December, Nico’s funded 1,024 meals.

Nico also is donating to Lifting Hands International, a Chandler nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to refugees in the United States and around the world.

He said Nico’s enlisted the help of another Gilbert business, LetterCraft, to design wooden ornaments that were sold around Christmas and generated over $300.

“We raised enough money to buy a goat for a displaced Syrian family in Jordan,” Patel said. “With a goat they can have meals like milk and cheese and use that goat to sustain their life. The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest refuse crisis the world has ever seen.”

Donating to Feed My Starving Children will be ongoing every month. “We treat it like it’s mechanical,” Patel said. “We don’t think about it, it just happens.”

Patel’s future plans include opening another shop in Gilbert or in Queen Creek.

“There’s kind of a renaissance right now with barbershops,” he said. “Lots of people are looking for something more traditional, a little more pinpointed to men’s grooming.”

The barbershop industry has indeed grown over the past five years by 1.2 percent to where revenue reached $4 billion in 2019, according to IBISWorld, a market research company.

And in the same time, the number of barbershops has grown by 1.6 percent while the number of employees has grown by almost as much, IBIS reported.

Patel thinks social media and the trend in selfies, or self-portraits, have a lot to do with the increase.

“People want to look good all the time,” he said. “We have a lot of clients that come in weekly and lot who come in every two weeks to keep their look crisp.”

Besides, barbershops offer men a refuge, according to Patel.

“People go there to catch up and talk and relax,” he said. “It’s kind of like a spa for guys to go there and unwind and just chill.”

Nico’s also offers free nonalcoholic drinks and has two televisions. Unlike many barbershops that only take walk-ins, customers can schedule their appointment online at Nico’s – a great convenience for busy men, Patel said.

Currently he has five barbers on staff and Patel will become number six after he graduates from a year-long barber school in February.

“A thing that is important to me when building the team is I don’t want it to be an all-male-driven place,” he said, noting there are two women barbers on his staff. “I didn’t want it to be a bunch of guys in there. I wanted it to be a little different. We are very big on equality.”

He said the women not only have barber skills, but bring unique talents to the table in terms of hospitality.

“They have talent in terms of relationships men don’t really focus on,” he said. “Barbering is a relationship business just as much as a service. You build clientele and have to have a good relationship.

“When I signed a lease on this space and didn’t even have a barber, I followed my intuition and knew it would come together and just like that it came together and I found the right people.”