Prine. Image: SMoak Salon

Longtime SMoak Salon stylist and business manager Paul Prine is starting the new year off with a “bang.”

The New Orleans native has purchased the salon, located in Duling School, from founder, Suzanne Moak.

“Two to three years ago, Suzanne and I started talking about a partnership,” Prine explains. “In early 2016, we traveled to Chicago for classes, designed to help grow the salon. We came away with our eyes open to what we could have. In the process, she said now was the time to put our partnership plans into play. By year’s end, she… offered for me to buy SMoak outright.” The sale was officially completed at first of 2017 (Moak and her husband, Paul Mackza, have recently adopted three children, siblings, and moved to New Orleans where he has business interests).

What will change? “Nothing,” Prine says, “including the name.”

“The changes we’ve made over the past year were things we both decided on as we moved forward toward a partnership. We’ve worked hard to build a reputation and a brand. So, no, nothing is changing.”

Becoming a greater part of SMoak Salon has been Prine’s dream from his earliest days of styling in 2009. “In [hair] school, my five year goal was to own my own salon,” he recalls. “After working here, I found I loved the atmosphere and the team and went to Suzanne. ‘One day I want to buy part of this, to be partners,’ I told her. And she said, ‘Sure!’ It gave me hope and a goal. I didn’t do it in in five years, but in seven or eight.”

Prine will still cut hair with the added pressure of being “the boss.” But, really, it’s nothing new. He’s served as the salon’s business manager since 2014 and, before that, HR manager since 2010. What’s different now is making sure seven full time stylists, three assistants, three front desk employees and a nail technician make money. “In our business,” he says, “nothing is a guarantee.”

That uncertainty hit home late last year when longtime SMoak stylist Leo DeMoney suddenly passed away. “That was huge blow to our business,” Prine says, “but an even bigger hit to us, his friends. We’ve gone out of our way to take care of his clients who we appreciate for staying with us. Everyone knows, if it’s Leo’s client, ‘Do it’- whatever ‘it’ is – to reasonably provide them the level of service Leo once did.”

SMoak Salon is now open Mondays, noon to 5 p.m. with plans to expand those hours. Future plans call for a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule to support employees of places like UMMC who work a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule. “We need time to fit them in,” Prine explains, “and don’t want to see that business leave Fondren.”

Nor does he ever plan to leave. “It feels like home,” Prine says of the vibrant and eclectic neighborhood. “It’s the only place I feel welcome, wanted and appreciated.”

Prine foresees a future expansion of the brand to include a location somewhere in the tri-county area. He and Moak have talked about the possibility of a New Orleans location one day for her to run.

“Suzanne and I talk every day,” Prine tells. “We’re good friends and I appreciate everything she has done. I totally respect her, her clients and this business. It’s her baby. She’s been my mentor and helped me to get where I am today. I owe her a lot for that.”

Prine’s Career at a Glance

Prine started his adult life in a hospital laboratory.  “I come from a family of nurses so, originally, I was planning to go to nursing school. You’ll find that in common with a lot of hairdressers, I’ve discovered,” he says. Prine spent ten years in the medical field and says one job opened the door for the next.

“In the medical industry, with five years under my belt, I could then teach. That got me started at a small technical college which got me into business school, which turned to hair school.”

“When I was 17, I got paperwork for beauty school, filled it out, but never turned it in,” he recounts. “I was afraid of what my family or friends would think. Not that they didn’t know I was gay, but men [doing hair] was always associated with being gay and I had a hard time dealing with the stigma. When I was older, I realized that was foolish [of me].”

Prine worked as the business office manager at Virginia College. When they began a cosmetology program, he assisted in writing grants and getting the teaching salon built out. “That re-sparked my interest,” he says, though he didn’t act on his own dream.

He became office manager for a local pest control office. After being passed over for a promotion, Prine gave himself a pep talk. “I said, ‘You’ve got to go back to school for something. If you want to make more money and do something more, you need to make a change.”

At 33 years-old, Prine would pull up to his job each day, on the phone with his mother, saying, “I hate this place.”

“She told me, ‘Find something else,’ but I knew that anywhere I went, it was the same work. That was my wake-up call, my ‘now or never.’”

Taking classes at night and working during the day for a year and a half, Prine eventually took on a part time role with SMoak as Moak’s assistant in 2009 after graduating from Magnolia College in late 2008. As the salon got busier, Prine was shortening his hours at his day job. His boss had had enough.

“He told me, ‘Either be here eight-to-five or go do what you want to do,’” Prine says. “I remember struggling with that. I talked to Suzanne, asking for full time work. When she said, ‘Yes, and I’ll give you a raise,’ that’s what made up my mind and, next day, I gave [the pest control service] my two-week notice.”

Publisher’s note: Paul has cut my hair since April 2009 and tells me I’m one of five original male clients he took on. I’m proud of his new role as owner of SMoak Salon and thankful for his commitment to Fondren.