FLC

Greasy Hands & Turbo Coffee

Slow Service, Fast Rides

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A lot of people want to walk in, wait a few minutes, sit down, get a hair-cut, and go about their day. I’m not in that business.

__Austin Shirey

In the river city of Florence, Alabama there has long been an air of renaissance. A small Southern town, Florence and neighboring Muscle Shoals have been the unlikely channel through which a rich musical revival rushed across the region in the late 1960’s and 70’s, bringing with it a revived spirit of creative ingenuity. That certain magic wading in on the bank of its Tennessee River waters once attracted the young Rolling Stones, captured the vibrato of Aretha Franklin, and fueled the rise of Motown. But more than the music, Florence has seen entrepreneurs of all kinds. It’s waters beckoned fashion pioneers Billy Reid and native Alabama Chanin to call it their own, and is now at work once again, casting out its net of possibility to those who might be caught.

Willing captors of its lure, Florence born brothers Austin and Reese Shirey have returned to their hometown after years spent away to partner with this quiet renaissance. With a tenacious love for home, and a heart to offer it their best, the two have combined their skills to usher in a new level of quality in the everyday, raising standards (and a few eyebrows) around town. ln a place where you can still “have your ears lowered,” Austin’s Greasy Hands brings a dimension and flair to the small town barbershop. Likewise, Reese’s adjoined specialty coffee bar, Turbo, serves a refined espresso menu over a buffet of brews and artificial flavors. Between the two, the Shirey’s are creating a new demand for their respective craft that they’re eager to fill. But first – New York.

Just after graduating with an advertising degree, Austin Shirey relocated from Alabama to New York City to climb the corporate ladder. Being in New York and making it big was the plan, but it wasn’t long before the advertising rat race lost its glow. In his spare time away from work, he retreated to the relaxed atmosphere and intrigue of barber shops around the city, places like the Blind Barber in the East Village. “I started to think about what I really like to do and where I liked spending my time, and it all came back to the barbershop.” It was a moment he faced himself – as we all must – and asked, “What am I really made for?” So, after two years at Esquire Magazine, Austin left for a new journey: ten weeks of barber school and a part-time gig at Brooklyn-based barbershop, Persons of Interest. He had caught a glimpse of his purpose there, and had to find out more. With a new sense of direction, each step gave that outline greater definition. After completing his intensive ten week training, he joined the Blind Barber in Brooklyn full-time – and started getting his hands greasy.

Meanwhile, Reese was making headway on his own plans for the future. He traveled to live with Austin in New York for four months to study what he knew he loved: ice cream. He spent his work hours at a shop in Greenpoint near Williamsburg, but evenings were reserved for wandering the city and dreaming up plans with Austin, plans to own their own businesses together one day. By this point, coffee had Reese’s curiosity, and soon, his attention.

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He explored Brooklyn’s coffee scene while in New York, places like Parlor Coffee, a pop-up espresso bar in the rear room at Persons of Interest. It was the perfect model – two independent but inextricable entities united under one roof. With the idea lingering in both of their minds, Reese returned to Alabama to open his own ice cream business. A year later, he transitioned into coffee full-time and – like Austin – dove head first into the intricacies of Counter Culture coffee. Brew methods, beans – the works.

By this point, Austin had returned to Florence and built out his own space, opening Greasy Hands Barbershop on October 1, 2014. With Reese’s newly perfected skills behind the bar, it was time to establish their long term vision. One roof, impeccable services, diverse experiences. “From a coffee stand point, you have people coming in all day long to get haircuts so it makes sense. You have a built-in clientele without even having to work for it.” It’s logical, yes, but proof also that ingenuity is often lies at the crossroads of financial resources and market demand. The Shirey’s saw in Brooklyn’s example their own opportunity. Inspired by their defining heritage as Southerners and brothers, Reese moved his Chemex into the back half of Greasy Hands and went to work building and brewing.

Success is never determined by inspiration and a whim that things will somehow work out. As proven over and over again, success requires consistency, tenacity, and often, formulated steps. By virtue, the Shirey’s are a methodical duo. They don’t idly wait for the window of opportunity; they create it. You notice it as soon as you cross the threshhold into their world, their vision manifested. Pull back the curtain on any memorable service and you’re bound to find a similar methodical madness, a hunger for progress. While there is truly no formula to follow, no 10 easy steps, these brothers are a powerful example of incremental success to building what you believe in. Far from reckless abandon, these two calculated the risks and ran to meet them with maturity and unrelenting singleness of eye. They earned their stripes the smart way, from apprenticeships, learning in a world-class city, taking chances, and asking the right questions.

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The Shirey’s now operate a full-fledged operation in Florence with three distinct parts: Greasy Hands, Turbo Coffee, and now Dixie Garage, a general store for handmade goods run by friend and business partner Lucas Wassner. While they provide standard services, they’re elevating expectations in Florence one customer at a time. For Austin, it means giving them something to slow down for. “A lot of people want to walk in, wait a few minutes, sit down, get a hair-cut, zoom zoom, and go about their day. I’m not in that business. Here, it’s gonna be a full 30 minute exercise.” Gesturing toward Reese he confidently adds, “It’s really the same at Turbo: it’s a true slow bar. You’re not going to walk in there, get a cup to go, and pump it out of the drip, and go off to work. You’re going to watch him make it, he’s going to tell you what it is, and where it came from, and where it was roasted.”

 

Instead of catering to current market demands, Austin and Reese are in the business of creating demand for better options. “That’s the beauty of opening your own business,” Austin explains. “We opened our own business to do the things we like to do and share those passions with other people.” Far from reinventing the wheel, creating new desires in their customers means anticipating unspoken wants or needs. For Austin it’s making his customers look good. “I’ll have brand new guys who come in who tell me, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I trust you.’” For Turbo and Greasy Hands, that responsibility drives a continuous precision in their craft and respect towards their customers. Beyond sharing their skill and insight, there’s room to inform and drive change. “It’s a good way to force people to drink better coffee, if you don’t give them the option to drown their coffee in something sweet,” Reese offers with conviction. “It’s a way to push the coffee culture forward.”

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While expertise brought business in the door, their detailed execution of the vision has kept it growing. Part NYC sophistication, part Southern hospitality, and – lest we forget to mention – part motorcycle gang. It’s assertive, not exclusive, simply confident: an imperative attribute for starting a business – and riding motorcycles, yet another aspect of the identity they’ve formed. “Our dad has been in drag racing all of his life, so that’s all part of it for me,” Austin shared. The names they’ve chosen are indicative not only of their approach to the work, but their shared passion for riding and fixing old cafe racers. Despite the slow, deliberate service Austin delivers, Turbo references “coffee that will kick you into high gear,” and the speeding growl of an engine through the alley just outside their shop. As for Greasy Hands, the name comes both from the motorcycle documentary Greasy Hands Preachers, as well as from the 1960’s Mad Men era of petroleum-based pomades. While they maintain individual identities, Turbo and Greasy Hands radiate a brotherly affection. For Reese, “The Turbo experience is an extension of the barbershop. You don’t go into a barbershop with your laptop, put your headphones in, and just start studying. You talk to people. Turbo is the same way.” In essence, their bond is their brand.

The most compelling part of their story however is not their brand, nor their craft, nor their specific combination of industry. It’s their commitment, to each other and to their community. “We’ve realized we are stronger together,” Austin says matter-of-factly. It’s a strength that wells up and spills out, marking any experience inside the shop.

In doing what they love, the two have managed to create that third place in town, outside of home and work, where people can gather, converse, and relax. The barber’s chair provides more than haircuts; it offers camaraderie, therapy even. And those cups of coffee fuel not only energy for the day, but an invitation to connect. And for Turbo and Greasy Hands, this is just the beginning of the road.

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