One-Way Ticket to Salon Success
Dean Delmonte embodied the small-town boy who makes it big in the big city, until COVID hit
By Matthew Bradford
Dean Delmonte didn’t have a plan when he boarded a bus to Toronto at the age of 18. Looking back, he says, that was kind of the point: “I’d grown up my whole life in Timmins and needed something new. So, I literally got on a bus with a one-way ticket and a dream of being this young gay boy who was going become a fabulous person in Toronto.”
“After that,” says the top stylist, “I kind of fell into hair.”
For Delmonte, it’s been a winding path from Toronto newcomer to celebrated salon owner. The journey began when he stepped off the bus from Timmins, walked into a hair salon and successfully applied for his first job. Over the years that followed, Delmonte went on to receive training at salons across the city and was mentored by industry luminaries like Adrienne Foley. He worked with her as a righthand stylist for over 12 years.
“I was lucky to be fitted with a couple of amazing salons in the beginning and built myself up from there,” reflects Delmonte. “Back then, it was a time when you could grow clientele very easily and very, very quickly. You learned the ropes, moved from one salon to the next and figured out what type of hair you’re going to do along the way.”
Delmonte’s trajectory led to work in Toronto’s underground PATH system, where he began fashioning a name for himself. It wasn’t long before numerous high-profile clients caught wind, and in 2014, one of them offered to finance Delmonte’s dream of launching his own salon. Soon after, Dean Delmonte & Company was born with the mission of bringing “high fashion and Parisian aesthetics to the PATH in Toronto’s financial core.”
As Delmonte tells it: “I’d been working in a lot of different salons and starting to
hone in on my style, so having someone who believed in me like that, and then to build my own brand and shape my own destiny, was amazing.”
Three decades later, and it’s clear that the one-way bus ticket has paid off. Today, Dean Delmonte & Company enjoys a reputation as one of the PATH’s premier hair treatment destinations. In its first year alone, the business was awarded
Salon Interior Design Award, and the accolades have been accruing ever since. “That first award was a big deal because there are a lot of people in this industry who believe that the little guy isn’t really allowed to make it on their own, and that you have to be part of a big chain if you really want to run a salon,” Delmonte says.
From the start, Delmonte’s vision was to build a styling destination and a team that reflected his style and ideals. That included nurturing a queer-friendly space for staff and clients alike. While he did just that, not everyone in the PATH district was initially eager to welcome Delmonte’s team with open arms. “Back then, Toronto’s financial district was still very homophobic. My clientele base was mostly women and very few men, because Bay Street was extremely conservative,” he recalls. “Over the years, though, things have changed for the better, and Bay Street has become much more accepting.”
These initial biases did little to knock Delmonte off his path. With time, he continued to build a specialized store and team that has made Delmonte a signature destination for prominent families, business leaders, celebrities and
Torontonians of every stripe. Delmonte attributes his success to his team of experienced stylists, many of who have remained loyal throughout the years and are believers in his vision.
“We run this place as a family,” he says. “I’m probably the most inclusive salon in the PATH, both in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation, and I really think that sort of family unit and being a queerpositive space is the main reason we have the people we do.” As for what continues to draw clients to his chairs, “We just do great hair. We’re fashion-forward; each stylist comes with their own talents, and each client is fit with the stylist that will best suit them.”
PAST THE PANDEMIC
Toronto’s PATH system was prime real estate when Delmonte first opened shop, but relying on business from nearby office buildings was a struggle during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Like virtually all businesses in Toronto’s underground hub, Dean Delmonte & Company’s resiliency was put to a harsh test. “Nobody really knew what was happening, but I started to notice around late January 2020 that the financial district was scared. People were starting to work from home and our revenues were dropping by 50 per cent every week leading up to March 15,” he reports.
Eventually, the business was forced to close its doors for 16 long months, losing millions of dollars in revenue between 2020 and 2021. During this time, Delmonte and his team leaned on government subsidies and a supportive landlord who did what they could to keep the salon viable.
As Delmonte explains: “90 per cent of our business comes from the office towers along the PATH, and when everyone went to work from home, our business dropped by 70 per cent. That meant we were working on a 30-per-cent revenue stream but paying 100 per cent of the bills. Fortunately, we’re just now starting to come out of it and starting to see the towers coming back, but I’m not going to lie, it was tough.”
With the worst of the pandemic behind him, Delmonte is eager to get back on pace. That includes continuing to build his clientele through word of mouth and social media channels. “This world is all about Instagram and social media, so between that and word of mouth, we haven’t really had to do a lot of marketing,” he notes.
As for advice for like-minded entrepreneurs, Delmonte says the most important asset for any business owner is authenticity: “Going into a very conservative Bay Street hair salon and environment, there was a long time where I tried to hide who I was. You didn’t want to be too flamboyant as that might have affected clients. But I’ve learned along the way that being your true self attracts the right type of clientele to you. And you know, you can only pretend for so long.”
As this issue was going to press, the
team was saddened to hear of Dean’s recent passing. This feature was already a celebration of Dean’s career; now, it also stands as a celebration of his life and legacy.