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Jereme Bokitch, owner of Hedkandi salon, on coaching employees, giving back to the community and starting his mornings sober

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Jereme Bokitch, founder of hair salon Hedkandi, dines at UNA Pizza + Wine in Calgary, Alberta.Dave Chidley/The Globe and Mail

CALGARY — Jereme Bokitch, owner of Calgary hair salon group Hedkandi, stopped drinking alcohol late in the summer of 2018. Now, 429 days into sobriety, the entrepreneur is open about his decision to start rehab.

It comes up during a lunch interview about his work habits. He says his mornings look far different today than they did a couple of years ago: no hangovers, more focus and a few minutes to recite a prayer used in recovery programs.

“This industry is really tough on people. We're out all the time and we're drinking,” Bokitch says. “Because so many people in our industry have challenges with alcohol and drugs, I wanted to put my experience out there if anybody's having challenges.”

Bokitch owns and operates seven shops in downtown Calgary with his wife and business partner, Wray Bokitch. He founded Hedkandi Salon 20 years ago and has since built the company out to include two more locations, two Butter Beauty Parlours and two high-end barbershops called Johnny’s Barber + Shop.

Being out on the town has always been a big part of Bokitch’s business. He loves that side of his work: socializing and connecting with clients and other industry members. It’s an effective marketing strategy, he says, but it comes with its risks – namely, the toll that long nights out can take on a person’s body. That’s why the 48-year-old called it quits on drinking not long after opening his last barbershop.

For the last few years, he’s always had a major expansion project in the works. But that’s all on pause now. He’s turned his attention to strengthening the businesses he already has. “Whenever you’re focusing really heavily on one thing, something else gets lost. But now the pendulum is swinging back.”

For Bokitch, lunch is the most important meal of the day

Most mornings, Bokitch sets his coffeemaker for 5:45 a.m. As the coffee brews, his two dogs stir and Bokitch wakes before his alarm goes off.

His two youngest sons, 9 and 10, eat toast before school – the third, 18, fends for himself – Bokitch sips coffee, typically black. If he’s hungry, he’ll turn his morning cup into a bulletproof coffee with the addition of a few tablespoons of butter and MCT oil.

A fan of intermittent fasting, Bokitch doesn’t eat anything until lunch, he explains as he dishes leafy greens onto his plate at UNA Pizza + Wine on Calgary’s 17th Avenue. Bokitch switched to this diet about four months ago and says he’s lost 30 pounds.

“What I usually feel like having depends on when I stop eating at night,” says Bokitch. He aims to wait 12 to 14 hours between his last meal at night and his first meal the next day.

Going without breakfast makes him a huge fan of lunch. Once or twice a week, he breaks his fast over a mid-day meeting at UNA. He’s been coming here weekly for years and eats the same thing every time – one kale Caesar salad with a side of roasted cauliflower, drizzled with tahini.

“As we got busier, I don't have as much time to sit. I'm often just grabbing and going, but all I ever eat for lunch is salad.”

Swinging back means refocusing on the culture within his company.

“Culture” is a word he brings up often. It’s one of the reasons he set out to open a salon: After growing tired of the competition that permeates within the industry, Bokitch wanted to create a workplace that offered its stylists education and support.

Bokitch believes that if you give your staff the skills to excel, positive business results will follow suit. “We put all of our time and effort and money and education into them, and make sure that they are loved and cared for,” he says of his staff. “And they’ll take care of us in the end.”

Today, Bokitch only has a dozen personal clients. He spends the rest of his time coaching stylists and front desk staff on how to build relationships with customers.

“That's one of the things that sets us apart. Not a lot of salons do this kind of coaching,” he says.

Every month, Bokitch meets with his employees for one-on-one coaching, going through everything from listening skills to personal challenges. He’ll often role-play with stylists to help them hold more meaningful conversations with customers.

“You can get a great haircut anywhere in Calgary, but you can’t get a great experience. We talk about ‘what does that experience look like? And how can you make it better?’”

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Jereme Bokitch meets with writer Christina Frangou for lunch. He's been coming to UNA for years — the kale Caesar salad is his favourite.Dave Chidley/The Globe and Mail

Another important component of the company’s culture is charity work.

Bokitch and his staff regularly host fundraisers and free haircuts for a dozen local charities, including homeless shelters, addiction treatment and social service centres for children.

“A great haircut can change how you feel about yourself,” Bokitch says, noting that many of the recipients of free haircuts are escaping domestic violence, going through gender transitions or getting ready for ID photos while experiencing homelessness.

Hedkandi also adopted a policy of gender-neutral pricing for guests about three years ago, as a stance against unequal pricing standards that dominate the industry.

As a business leader, Bokitch tries to cultivate a relationship of mutual respect with all of his employees. It’s why he’s so open about his sobriety: he needs support from his team and, in turn, he wants them to know they have his support as they go through challenges of their own.

He says this attitude is the secret to his business success: “If you look at it as not just as a job and you treat people with respect, you can do really well.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

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