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Courtesy Photo James Ortega stops by the newly renovated shop to visit his brother, Jerome Ortega

Questeño Takes Over Johnny’s Barbershop in Taos

Johnny’s Barbershop has been offering haircuts to locals and tourists on a walk-in basis since 1968. Johnny Tafoya ran the no-frills shop between 1968 and 1991. He brought on barber Ruben Graham, who took over the business from 1993 through 2023. As of last September, born-and-raised Questeño Jerome Ortega officially took the reins.

“I have worked here for seven years, and it’s been a good fit for me,” Jerome says. He has worked in the northern Taos County area since 2009. “My brother James and I opened Deuces Barbershop in Albuquerque, and I had an extension of that shop in Questa. I would travel back and forth every single week, where I’d work for two days in Questa and three days in Albuquerque,” he says. “My younger brother Jesus joined us in our shop in Albuquerque after he finished barber college.”

Eventually, Jerome, his wife and two sons decided to make the permanent move back to Questa in 2015, when he moved into Johnny’s Barbershop. “I knew I always wanted to come home and work in a locally established shop… where I could serve my community while growing my business.”

When asked if he still keeps in contact with Johnny, Jerome says he would come by the shop regularly before COVID hit. “He used to bring donuts and stop in to say hi, but after COVID hit, he stopped. I really enjoyed his visits,” he says.

Jerome understands and respects the groundwork laid at Johnny’s Barbershop by both Johnny and Ruben and says he’s proud to continue that legacy for his clients. He takes pride in the fact that the shop has always accepted walk-ins because it allows for flexibility for locals and visitors alike. “I also like to ensure I am available for my clients, so if someone texts me and tells me they need a haircut outside of normal business hours, I will arrange to meet them. I do this because I take care of my customers.”

As for Deuces Barbershop, the brothers decided to sell the business. His brother James now works full-time for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). Jesus decided to venture out on his own, opening Next Level Barbershop in Albuquerque.

When asked what spurred the passion for barbering in his family, Jerome says his uncle George was a barber. He passed away in 1977, but he recalls getting his hair cut by him and his dad when he was small. He realized he really enjoyed cutting hair and started cutting his friends’ and brothers’ hair growing up. He then would cut his kids’ hair, so it came naturally for him to follow his passion and make a career of it.
“One of the things I enjoy in my career is that I can watch sports all day. I have games on and when it’s a big time for the season, like the playoffs or March Madness, I can see my games,” Jerome says.

When asked about changes to the business, Jerome says he has already done a remodel, removing many of the older items that had been in place since 1968. The two items he kept were Johnny and Ruben’s barber chairs. “People have told me it feels like a man cave. I have a lot of sports paraphernalia all the way to when I was a child, so the shop really represents my passion and love for sports,” Jerome says. In addition, Jerome is changing the shop’s name to Jerome’s Babershop.

Jerome says he is grateful for the love and support from his wife, Lori, whom he’s been married to for 20 years, along with his sons Mateo and Carlos. “They have been by my side through the moves, new shops, and everything in between to get to this place. I couldn’t have gotten through it without them.” He is also quick to recognize the support and advice his family of entrepreneurs has given him, including his dad, Lawrence Ortega, who owned an engineering firm in Taos for 45 years; his sister Melissa Ortega-Rael, who owns her own event management business; and brother Lorenzo Ortega who owns Taos Sanitary Supply. “Their advice and support has been so important for me and I am excited to use much of what I have learned in this new business venture.”

Currently, Jerome works with local barber Max Tafoya. The shop is located at 308 Paseo del Pueblo Sur in Taos and is open seven days per week: Sundays 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., Mondays 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., and Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.