Located in the hallway leading to Hart House’s Fitness Centre, Ben Cataudello’s hair salon is one of the oldest in the city. After 37 years and thousands of haircuts, Ben retired last year. Here’s what he has to say about Hart House after almost four decades.
Ben Cataudello has no idea how many U of T professors, students, staff, and community members have walked through the door of the Hair Place in the past 37 years. But he’s particularly proud of one thing: that so many of them kept coming back.
“I remember this assistant dean in the law faculty. He would bring his 6- and 7-year-old sons with him. And one of the boys continued to come to me until he was in his early 40s. When I told him I was leaving, he was speechless,” says Ben.
“I had a lot of important people at Hart House, including of course many wardens, Robertson Davies, and so many others. I was very happy.“
It all started in 1975. Ben had been working out of a facility at the Clarke Institute (now CAMH) for 13 years when a new client dropped by to see him.
“After I was done he told me he liked his haircut and hoped I could work at Hart House,” says Ben.
That man, as it turns out, was the then warden of Hart House. , which needed someone to take over the hair salon. But Ben didn’t take up the offer. At least not immediately. Instead, he suggested that his brother seize the opportunity.
“[My brother] spoke with the assistant warden, Audrey Hozack, and took over the Hair Place. But by 1980, he wasn’t feeling well so I took over the shop. I started on February 1, 1981, and I hired my own staff soon after.”
Up until 1972, Hart House was essentially a men’s club, and women weren’t allowed in as members. By the time Ben arrived, women had been members for almost a decade. Even so, Ben felt that the Hair Place wasn’t as prepared for female clientele as he would have liked.
“He went ahead and hired female hair stylists,” says Pina Galloro, who began working at the Hair Place in 1985 and is its current co-owner.
“[Ben] made sure women felt they could come here. Not only that, he was a great boss. People tended to work for him for a long time,” says Pina. She adds that Ben was fond of buying chocolate for his employees every Easter, Christmas, and St. Valentine’s Day.
“He’d also buy us lunch on occasion,” says Rosalind Lochan, the Hair Place’s second co-owner.
“Ben was a great barber and a great boss. No wonder his clients came to him for so long,” adds Rosalind.
Cutting hair, however, is hard work. Around four years ago, Ben decided to reduce his hours. This gave him some well-deserved rest. It also allowed him to spend more time with his wife, who was recovering from knee surgery.
“By the end of June, 2017, I decided to retire completely. I was thinking about it for two months.” Asked why it took him so long to decide, Ben says, “I didn’t know how to tell my customers.”
Now that he’s retired, Ben doesn’t need to stand for hours to cut hair, but he still stays active. “I go for long walks. I’m 78. I was working 50 years at the university. Sixty years I’ve been working. And I enjoyed it. I was my own boss and I liked the people so much. I never considered going elsewhere. I was happy. But I’m happy now too, and my wife is happy.”
Would he like to pass on a message to his former clients? Ben’s reply comes without hesitation: “I was so honoured to deal with you for so many years. I really, really appreciate it.”