Some cleaning supplies. A toolbox. A few gallons of paint. Some elbow grease. And a vision. According to Ben Mollin, that’s all it takes to start a business. But for the modern-meets-punk-rock hair salon owner, it was the passion for his trade and his customers that eventually led him to help revitalize an entire downtown area.

Make it Work

While driving down Broad Street, Ben and his wife/business partner Angela came upon an area of downtown Griffith that appeared in disrepair. But with a “For Rent” sign in the window, their curiosity got the better of them, and they pulled over to investigate the potential opportunity.

“The spaces were filthy, with water damage and mold on the walls,” Ben says. “But the landlord was so excited that we were willing to move into the space. He let us renovate on our own terms, and pretty soon we were up and running.”

For four years, Ben Mollin Hair Education has been a staple in downtown Griffith and one of the first businesses to turn Broad Street into a place where people gather to explore their passions.

“Griffith made it extremely easy for young artists and entrepreneurs to come in and open businesses in the town,” he says. “And now, it’s like your younger version of ma and pa shops. We have friends who have opened other businesses—music stores, bakeries, cafés. We all support one another.”

The Starting Line

Ben was just a young boy when he became fascinated with hair styling. He said his exposure to the craft first came from his mother, who cut his hair in the early years of his life. His interest only grew from there.

“I was always braiding things when I was a kid,” Ben says. “And when I was a freshman, I gave someone a perm. It’s just something I have always done.”

Upon graduation from high school, Ben immediately enrolled at Cameo Beauty Academy in Oak Lawn, Ill. And in 2007, thousands of television viewers tuned in to see Ben in action on Bravo’s hit show, “Shear Genius.”

The reality show, likened somewhat to “Project Runway,” selects hair stylists from around the country to compete against each other for the title “Shear Genius.” Ben was fortunate enough to participate in the show’s first season, during which he was one of the remaining three contestants. And though his 15 minutes of fame have waned, the impact the experience had on his sense of purpose remains.

“When I travel for trade shows, people from all over the country come up to me and say they saw me on TV,” he says. “They tell me these amazing stories of how they were in a bad place in their life at the time, and how I inspired them to go to beauty school.”

Giving Back

With a constant reminder of the influence he has had on other young professionals, Ben continues to do the work that he loves.

“This is what God intended me to do,” he says. “Teaching people, relating to people, having them walk away feeling better about themselves and loving the fact that they are a hair dresser.”

In addition to the salon, Ben also shares his passion as the host of Northwest Indiana’s “Hair of the Dog Annual Gala.” The event, held at Merrillville’s Radisson at Star Plaza, brings together hair salons, local businesses and members of the community to support the Humane Society Calumet Area. The evening culminates with an animal-themed hair and style show.

“Last year we had 400 participants, and this year we had 1,000,” Ben says. “We are hoping to make something born out of Lake County into a national thing.”

Though extremely busy, Ben remains open to new opportunities to improve Griffith. In fact, he and Angela put a spin on hair styling when they opened a juice bar and café right next door. And with the business situated along the Griffith Bike Trail, Angel Hair Café creates a unique opportunity to serve the community.

“We aren’t afraid of taking risks,” Ben says. “The worst thing that is going to happen is that it’s not going to work.”

Together, Ben and Angela have high hopes for Griffith’s future. With a heart for people and a community that is supportive of new business start-ups, they see the town’s full potential.

“I want to put Griffith on the map,” Ben says. “My goal is to make it a model prototype that other cities can build off of—where other towns and developers say, ‘Yeah. Kind of like Griffith.’”