An urban hair salon meets art gallery on the Landing at jeffrey.benjamin.hair

When Jeffrey Ptak was a 12-year-old kid growing up in Buffalo, NY, he fell in love with the art of cutting hair.

While his friends were getting their hair done at a hole-in-the-wall barbershop across the street from Hamburg Beach, Ptak would sit and watch the barber, Vince, at work.

“I thought, man, this guy is making a living by creating something new every 45 minutes,” he says. “He’s basically an artist.”

Ptak originally learned to love the art of hair as an apprentice in Buffalo, NY.

Throughout his grade school years, Ptak kept coming back to that barbershop and learning from Vince, who took him under his wing. Over the years, Ptak started cutting his own hair, his family’s hair, and later, his teammates hair when he traveled the world as a professional volleyball player.

It was volleyball that brought Ptak to Fort Wayne in 1998 to play for IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne), which was one of the top schools in the nation at that time. When Ptak’s volleyball career ended at age 37, he decided to fulfill his long-awaited dream to attend hair school and open his own salon.

After graduating and working for other salons around Fort Wayne for a few years, Ptak opened jeffrey.benjamin.hair on the newly renovated Landing cultural district downtown in May 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Input Fort Wayne sat down (virtually) with Ptak to learn more about his salon, his background, and his passion for art and hair.

Ptak originally learned to love the art of hair as an apprentice in Buffalo, NY.

IFW: Tell us a little bit about you and what led you to open jeffrey.benjamin.hair in Fort Wayne?

JP: If you have 53 minutes, I told my entire story on the podcast, “The Ballad of Freddy Ray” on Spotify, by my friend Freddy Ray, who is a former police detective and tattoo artist in Fort Wayne. I’ve gotten most of my tattoos from him.

As a quick overview, I’m from Buffalo, New York, and I originally came to Fort Wayne in 1998 to play volleyball at IPFW.

After college, I played professional volleyball overseas for 15 years. When I was 37, I retired, and I got into hair, which is something I always knew I wanted to do after I finished playing sports.

I went to hair school at age 37, and started to rock and roll. When I graduated, I worked at InTouch Salonspa on the North side of Fort Wayne for a couple of years, and then I started working on building my own salon downtown on the Landing.

It’s been a crazy journey to get where I am, but I feel very lucky, and I’m proud to be part of the Landing. I’m excited about the future here.

Jeffrey Ptak, center, and a team of stylists at jeffrey.benjamin.hair.

IFW: Tell us about your family and how they inspired the name for jeffrey.benjamin.hair.

JP: Sure, I live in the ’07 neighborhood of Fort Wayne near Foster Park with my wife and my 16-year-old son who is also an entrepreneur, and interested in getting into hair, as well.

Benjamin is my middle name. When I was in trouble as a child, my mother was always like, “Jeffrey Benjamin!” Same with my wife now.

My mother passed in 2001, and my grandmother last year. They were both the most influential people of my life, and I wanted to create my salon in their memory.

I have huge artistic, framed pictures of both my mother and grandmother right at my station in the salon. The rest of the art on our walls rotates constantly, but those pictures don’t move.

jeffrey.benjamin.hair is a hair salon and a local art gallery in one.

IFW: What’s it like being one of the first businesses on the Landing now that it’s renovated?

JP: The Landing is great. It has strong downtown vibes and creative vibes. We have so many amazing restaurants and businesses as well.

Back in my college years, 20 years ago, the first bars I went to in Fort Wayne were on the Landing. The old Flashbacks building is next to us now. The building to my right was called Bensons and was a place I went ALL the time. Then there was the Downtown (which is currently the Landing Beer Co.), and of course, Columbia Street West.

It’s pretty cool to go back to my old stomping grounds of my party days and see that it’s so different now. It’s really beautiful. The developers behind this project, the Model Group, have done such a great job on the Landing, and I feel like our salon is right in the middle of all the action.

Every day I walk down this street, I’m proud to be here. It’s cool to see kids running around and people riding bikes through the street now that it’s pedestrian-friendly. Fort Wayne’s community is really embracing the concept of downtown living.

The space at jeffrey.benjamin.hair has a modern, industrial vibe.

IFW: What’s it like running your own hair salon in Fort Wayne?

JP: It’s quite different from other careers, but being involved in sports my entire life and being a captain of different pro teams around the world helped me understand what it takes for a good team to be successful.

We have a great culture here at the salon. We help each other, and we work as a team. I think that’s priority No. 1—having a great culture. We have seven stylists total right now, including myself, and we’re bringing in one more in June.

Jeffrey Ptak, center, and a team of stylists at jeffrey.benjamin.hair.

Also, personally, I just love cutting hair. I understand hair. I don’t know why, but I do, and it’s great to work in a field where you just get it.  I’m lucky to have been able to work in two passions of mine: Sports and hair. So many people hate their jobs, and I’ve spent my entire life enjoying what I do.

Obviously, playing a professional sport is hard on the body, but I loved it. The same with styling and cutting hair. It’s exhausting physically and mentally, but it’s really fun. When someone comes into your chair, and they leave feeling better about themselves, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with that.

jeffrey.benjamin.hair is a hair salon and a local art gallery in one.

IFW: What makes jeffrey.benjamin.hair different from other salons in Fort Wayne?

JP: A lot of people thought it might be hard to get Fort Wayne residents to come downtown to get their hair done because it doesn’t have the convenience of a shopping mall or immediate parking out front. But I think being in the city is awesome. Parking downtown and walking to the salon is all part of the experience, and our clients seem to enjoy it. A lot of our guests meet for dinner or drinks with friends after their hair appointment, and just make a day of it.  The Landing offers a bit of everything.

When I was overseas, every city I visited I would try to check out the local art museums, as well as the hair salons to get a feel for what I wanted to create someday.

jeffrey.benjamin.hair is a culmination of all of those ideas. It’s my brain in a brick-and-mortar space. It’s minimal, yet sophisticated. It’s my twist on a European downtown art museum/salon.

Every three months, I bring in a new local artist to display all of the artwork on the walls. I’d like to host art shows here in the future, too. I only did one last year due to the pandemic, but I’d like to get to a point where I’m doing art shows every few months for local artists to share their work with the public.

jeffrey.benjamin.hair is a hair salon and a local art gallery in one.

IFW: What’s it like doing all of this in Fort Wayne, in particular?

JP: Fort Wayne is an amazing community, and I am honored to have a business here. When I first came to Fort Wayne in 1998, it felt like there was nobody supporting art. Now, the movement is huge. I’ve always loved art, and luckily, am able to create it daily by doing hair. This city has many extremely talented artists who nobody knows about. They’re working on pieces, and sometimes, they have nowhere to display their work.

I’ve had several artists reach out to me to see if I’d like to have their art in my studio. Right now, we’re exhibiting the fifth artist since we opened, and it’s been very successful so far.

I’m also excited to start opening this space to the public for art shows. We’re going to have a One Year Anniversary celebration on June 19th, where we’ll have a local band play and an art show for Theopolis Smith, also known as Phresh Laundry. Theo’s work will be on display in the salon this summer, too. He’s a good friend of mine and a fantastic artist.

Theoplis Smith III will take the stage at CreativeMornings Fort Wayne in March to speak on "identity."

IFW: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

JP: We opened last year, May 18, 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, so it was pretty crazy.

Getting your hair done is a really personal experience, where you’re only a few feet away from someone else. It was weird at first with COVID-19 because no one knew what to expect. It was also difficult doing hair with a client wearing a mask or face covering.

The first few months, it was a really strange experience, but we made it through, and we’re excited about the future.

The space at jeffrey.benjamin.hair has a modern, industrial vibe.

IFW: What’s next for you?

JP: We’re just going to keep on cruising.

Personally, I might be taking a long-awaited vacation this summer. I lived and played in Puerto Rico for several seasons during my volleyball career, so it would be fun to go back there and just enjoy a break.
 
Businesswise, I’m planning to keep making everybody happy, and looking forward to life on the Landing this summer.
 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.