Alex Arrieta never intended to be a barber.
At first, it started as a way to make some extra cash. Arrieta, a native of Peru, wasn’t in the U.S. legally and wanted to provide for his family as a high school sophomore. There weren’t many options available to him, so he began helping out at a local barbershop.
“Like, three barbers quit at the same time,” Arrieta said. “It was down to like … two barbers. They were desperate for barbers. They got to a point where it was like, ‘We’re so desperate, we’ll teach you how to cut hair.’
“It’s not like I loved it. I’d be lying to you if you told you it was my dream to become a barber. It literally just happened. After I learned it, I fell in love with it.”
He stayed. After he became a permanent resident in 2011 and U.S. citizen in 2014, he stayed in the barbershop.
And he honed his craft.
Being a barber – a good barber, according to his clients – has taken him to places he never imagined he’d go as someone who arrived in the United States at 13 years old with his family and $500 between them.
Including Orlando City’s locker room.
“I used to work in Sanford,” Arrieta said, sitting in a chair in the shop he owns in Orange City, called Mr. Cutz Unlimited. A customer had just left and Arrieta, 28, agreed to sit with Pro Soccer USA after he put the finishing touches on the young man’s haircut.
“That’s the first place I started cutting – in a barber shop over there. Before Orlando City became MLS … the closest shop happened to be the one I used to work at and that’s how I started cutting them.”
As a fan – one with an Orlando City tattoo on his left arm, which he said he got before he started cutting the players’ hair – he jumped at the chance to become a closer part of the Orlando City family.
It started with former Orlando City striker Cyle Larin. It continued with former forward Giles Barnes, who introduced Arrieta to current star striker Dom Dwyer. Barnes, still a close friend, also advocated for Arrieta to get to Orlando City’s training facility.
Even though Orlando City brought in a host of new players to start the 2018 season, Arrieta has endured as the club’s primary barber. He comes to the training facility once a week.
“This year, it’s pretty much a new team,” Arrieta said. “The guys, they asked the ones who were here, ‘Who’s cutting you?’”
Like any good barber, he knows his clients. He knows he and rookie Chris Mueller will spend a while discussing the haircut before he puts clippers anywhere near Mueller’s head. He knows centerback Amro Tarek demands perfection, and that perfection takes time.
He’s been to Dwyer’s home and knows Dwyer wants a cut that’ll look fresh on match day. Plus, it was Dwyer who extended to invitation for Arrieta to continue coming to Orlando City’s training facility, despite Barnes’ absence.
Of course, Arrieta close with fellow Peruvian and MLS All-Star midfielder Yoshimar Yotún.
“That really changed my life,” Arrieta said.
“When I started cutting inside the locker room, that’s when people really started seeing me. That’s when things really started changing. I’ve been around [the team] for like two, three years. They feel comfortable with me. They don’t have to hide anything or anything like that. I almost feel like I’m part of the team, if that makes sense.”
Arrieta’s shop, which has been open since January, is the product of his connection with Orlando City’s players. The extra business helped him earn the funds he needed to branch out.
Arrieta has been with the team through some of its biggest moments, too. He traveled to Atlanta for MLS All-Star Week. Not just to watch, but because he wanted to make sure Yotún and rookie midfielder Cam Lindley were looking their best for the All-Star and Homegrown games, respectively.
Lindley had used a different barber before the All-Star game.
“I said ‘Why not?” Lindley said with a smile.
“My hair looked great, but [Arrieta’s] a really good guy and he loves Orlando and he loves soccer so it’s just so cool to have someone who is able to help us out. For him, it’s a cool experience, too. He gets to be around the guys all the time.”
Arrieta haircuts have been seen across the globe, at this point. The U.S. men’s national team – including young superstar Christian Pulisic – has benefitted from Arrieta’s skill. Larin introduced Arrieta to the Canadian men’s national team.
Yotún connected Arrieta with the Peruvian men’s national team. That in particular is something Arrieta considers an honor. He was the Peruvian team’s barber before its friendly against Croatia in Miami, after Peru qualified for the World Cup.
“To me, that was the most amazing experience,” Arrieta said. “That was thanks to Yoshi. To me, I always wanted to see Peru in a World Cup. I just felt like, you know, I was part of it. It was something very special to me to be just to be there. It was an amazing experience. To cut their hair, it was just mind-blowing.”
Arrieta and Yotún’s relationship runs deeper than barber and client. They’ve met each other’s families. Arrieta has been to Yotún’s home for barbecues. In fact, Arrieta said he’s at Yotún’s home pretty much once a week.
“I have the fortune of knowing him,” Yotún said through a translator. “He’s Peruvian and I met him through Richie [Laryea] and Cyle and I created a great relationship with him. He’s been in my home and his family has been with my family. He’s great person – very talented and an excellent barber and I’m happy to know someone from Peru that’s here near me and is my great friend.”
Arrieta has stepped up outside of making sure his clients are well-groomed.
He interrupted a haircut in mid-July to assist a stranger outside of his shop. The man, Bryan Sharp, was walking by Arrieta’s shop and looked like he was struggling.
“This guy looked like he was going to die,” Arrieta said. “There was, for sure, something wrong with him.”
Sharp, who later wrote to the Orlando Sentinel to praise Arrieta for helping him, was having a heart attack.
“I called 911, I brought him inside and within 45 seconds the ambulance was here,” Arrieta said. “I still didn’t know what happened. That was a Monday. He came in Friday and said, ‘I can’t thank you enough. You saved my life.’
“Apparently the doctors told him if I didn’t react so quick, he probably would have died. I feel like I did what anyone would have done. My first reaction was to get help.”
Arrieta said there was a time where he would have been hesitant to react to Sharp’s condition. Sharp was outside his shop — Arrieta could have kept his head down and kept working on the haircut he was trying to finish.
“This was a rare random act of kindness in a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to find people who are willing to help a stranger,” Sharp wrote in his letter to the Orlando Sentinel. “This man saved my life. He deserves recognition.”
Continuing to grow
Arrieta isn’t content with just cutting players’ hair – though it’s something that has meant countless opportunities for him.
His Instagram page is filled with photos of the players whose hair he’s cut. Peruvian midfielder Carlos Ascues arrived in Orlando earlier in August and has already been added to Arrieta’s ever-growing list of clients.
“I’ve had people that drive from Kissimmee, Poinciana – a two-hour drive just so they can meet me and I can cut their hair,” Arrieta said. “They see me on [the players’] Instagram pages. The way they see it, it’s like, my haircuts are on TV every week then … why wouldn’t I trust him? If these people can trust him, why wouldn’t I trust him?”
Arrieta, who is finishing his business degree at Seminole State College, wants to expand and open new locations. He wants more for his wife, Leslie, and his 10-month-old daughter, Mia. He’s close to adding a new child to his life – his wife is eight months pregnant.
“It’s crazy, because I come from a country where it’s like, you breathe soccer,” Arrieta said. “I grew up playing soccer. I was always an Orlando City fan. I went from their fan to their barber, from their barber to their friend. I actually go and chill with them and hang out with the guys.
“I’m really grateful for everything that’s happened the past couple years.”