Deeply Rooted: Sweetroots Hair Bar Begins to Sprout
June 7, 2018
Driving innovation in the hair salon industry may sound like a tough task, but Labriah Lee Holt hopes to make it a “sweet” journey. Holt is the owner of the new Sweetroots Hair Bar on the Westside, just steps away from a historic stretch of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Holt initially got the idea for Sweetroots while trying to manage her “on-the-go” career and became frustrated with a history of salon experiences that she believed took her money and time for granted, often leaving her unsatisfied with the result.
“At first, I experienced wanting to look the part, in work and in life, and had a really hard time finding somewhere I could go where they both would honor and value my time and also take care of my hair. So, after a while of sitting in salons for six hours for a wash and a silk press, and traveling to places to try and get service, I got tired and recognized there was a real void,” Holt says.
“Black women — and this multicultural market — we spend the most money on our hair and hair maintenance and hair health, and I think it’s quite frustrating to be a woman [who] realizes that nobody [big brand salons] really wants to cater to you.” She continues, “I never felt like it was welcoming for me. There was always a trust question. Can they do black hair? Can they do textured hair? Will they have the right products, the right tools? Have they done the hair of other women like me and can execute the style? And most of the time it was a fail.”
Holt stopped going to salons for five years and finally decided that it was time for a new model of hair service for black women that was efficient and provided a healthy hair experience. Fast forward, and Sweetroots Hair Bar is finally starting to sprout. It opened in May, and the entire team is proud to be located in one of Atlanta’s most culturally rich neighborhoods. And Sweetroots is also a family affair, as Labriah’s husband Kevin is her partner in the venture and brings a background in restaurant operations that help shape the experience.
What differentiates Sweetroots from the traditional hair salon is that it that is a “hair bar,” so it offers a select menu of signature options and services for both natural and protective styles that can be expertly executed to minimize wait times, all in a pampering environment designed to make customers truly feel refreshed. And it’s a non-toxic establishment, boasting premium, natural, plant-based products.
Everything about a customer’s approximately 90-minute experience is crafted to make sure each moment is part of an escape from the everyday grind, from the sounds to the aromatherapy to the wine, champagne, and nutritionist-curated snacks.
Beyond the business, Sweetroots is already forging a strong connection with the surrounding neighborhoods and prides itself on partnering with companies that share a similar commitment to giving back.
Sweetroots Managing Stylist Latasha Gray is an Atlanta native who graduated from nearby Frederick Douglass High School. She gushes with enthusiasm about the salon’s commitment to serving, which so far has included a prom makeover for a Douglass High student, providing in-kind donations to fashion shows, and creating outreach events with the community in mind.
“During our soft opening, we worked with City of Refuge,” says Gray. “We had a lady come in to get her hair done. And sometimes those women don’t get the opportunity to get their hair done. We did a complimentary service and provided her with an impromptu lunch, and she was super thankful for the opportunity. And so were we.”
Sweetroots is located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in the same building — next door — to the historic University Barbershop, so when the Holts bought the building to launch the salon, they instantly became stewards of an Atlanta landmark in the form of a barbershop that has hosted the likes of the street’s namesake as well as other icons like boxer Muhammad Ali. For the prior owner of the building, it was important that the new owners were interested in maintaining the building and creating space for that legacy to continue.
According to Kevin Holt, “University Barbershop has been here in this space since 1956. It has serviced students from the AUC up to Civil Rights leaders who have changed the world. And it’s been a staple in the community and continues to be so going forward.”
“We know that we have a responsibility to the community to be the very first business that students come across in the community once they land on Clark Atlanta University’s campus,” he continues. “We want to make sure that we’re always a welcoming, warm place where any new college kid from out of town feels comfortable coming to.”
While the Sweetroots story is still in its first chapter, Labriah Holt hopes it’s just the start of a larger vision to transform the salon experience for women across the country and incorporate a commitment to health in all forms, and she’s proud to launch that vision in one of Atlanta’s most beloved neighborhoods.
“We are committed to being the best salon and healthy hair care experience for women of all textures. We plan to grow and look forward to taking Sweetroots to other markets that also have been left out and need quality service,” she says proudly. “What’s so beautiful about being here in the Westside is that it is where you want your flagship to be. This is what we’re about. This is the perfect place for the forever first and original Sweetroots to be housed. But, bigger picture, there will be more, and it will all turn back to the Westside.”