Embrace The Experts

Cartoon Cuts is a family-owned business.  Together with my brother, my sister and my husband, we started the company in 1991, when Matt and Casey, our two older kids, were in preschool.  Now, Matt is a married father of two, and Casey co-led the company with me for a couple of years, until Covid forced us to downsize in 2020.  Our third child, Maggie, and a smattering of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins have also had their roles in the company’s history.  Baby Charlie (my granddaughter) got her first haircut at Cartoon Cuts in 2020, bringing the family business, full circle.

I am so incredibly grateful for the impact the company has had, not just on my family, but on all of the families in the markets where we cut hair.  We have done more than 7 million haircuts, and I am proud of that.  I have also had the great honor of working with some of the most talented, caring, and hard-working individuals on the planet.  Here are some of their stories.

-Kathleen Perkal, Founder

For some parents, it signifies the exciting move from babyhood to toddlerhood—sort of a rite of passage. For others, it can be traumatic—their babies are losing those adorable curls, and they are not ready for such a big step.

Stress. Trauma. Angst. Tears (usually the mom’s).

At Cartoon Cuts, we understand the emotions, and we use our expertise, sprinkled with a little bit of magic, to swiftly deliver a great first haircut.

It is what we do.

And sometimes, there is even more riding on the first cut. It can be a cultural or religious experience.

Last month, when I visited our salon at Wellington Green, Florida, Maria and Belkis shared their stories about the unique rituals associated with some cultures.

They told me that earlier in the summer, a young Indian girl had her head shaved, and her father performed a religious ritual immediately after the haircut. According to Hindu tradition, a head is shaved to signify freedom from the past and moving into the future. It is also believed that shaving the head stimulates proper growth of the brain and nerves. It is standard for boys and becoming popular for girls.

Mongolian children get their first haircut between the ages of two and five. Based on the lunar calendar, girls receive their first haircut in odd years, and boys during even years.

Muslim babies have their heads shaved (many times at seven days old), and then the parents anoint their heads with saffron. Then, it is customary for the parents to make a donation of gold or silver to a charity, equal to the weight of the shaved hair.

Many Orthodox and Hasidic boys get their first haircuts at age three. The haircutting ritual is known as the “upsherin.” They consider age three to be the start of a child’s formal education.

Traditional Chinese parents usually get their child’s hair cut at age one month. They associate the color red, with good luck, and babies are often outfitted with a red hat, after the cut.

Thank you, Belkis and Maria…for being the EXPERTS.

Munaza holds a lot of Cartoon Cuts records–most haircuts in a day; highest retail sales; most client requests; and even the MOST haircuts in a lifetime. She is, to borrow a sports term…our MVP.

Straight out of high school, in 1996, Munaza started at Cartoon Cuts. She worked at several of the company’s VA locations, and finally settled in at our Fair Oaks salon.

“I love my customers. I have relationships with all of them. Somehow, I have an amazing memory for their names and the details of their lives, yet I find it crazy that I cannot remember my grocery list!” Self-deprecating doesn’t begin to describe her.

The back-to-school season is particularly challenging, as the requests for Munaza are lined up into the mall. Fortunately for Cartoon Cuts, Munaza has a wonderful and supportive husband, who handles all of the household “stuff” during that crazy, busy time. He even cooks enough so that she has meals to bring to work the next day. This year, on the Sunday before Labor Day, Munaza arrived at the salon, to find 15 people waiting for her–the salon opened at 11 AM, and they had started lining up at 9:45!

Munaza is an avid devotee of routines. Each morning, she rises early, gets her son off to school and gets to work early to prepare. She knows that the secret to becoming more organized and better at what you do, is to establish a ritual. On her very occasional days off, Munaza has a

to-do list. She is a self-described “neat freak,” so once the house is clean, she often visits her parents. Friday nights are reserved for date-nights with her husband—often at Chuy’s, where they have terrific meatless options.

I asked Munaza if she was ever nervous at Cartoon Cuts. “No!” she exclaimed. She is gentle with each child, and she doesn’t rush. She told me that kids can “feel” you, and based on the phenomenal reviews about Munaza, across the internet, she has certainly used that magic on thousands and thousands of little fans. And, even though some are now in college, many still come in for that Munaza magic.

Thank you, Munaza…for being THE EXPERT!

Lasha (La-shay) started at Cartoon Cuts in 1995, and she worked in a few different Cartoon Cuts locations, before landing at The Mall in Columbia. She has a hard time believing that she has been with the company for more than 20 years. As a child, Lasha always loved to do hair. She gives her husband credit for recommending that she turn her passion into a career.

People often tell Lasha that her husband is “the best man ever.” Well, this past summer, he proved them right. He convinced Lasha’s 73-year-old mother, to fly up to Baltimore from Georgia, as a surprise for Lasha’s 50th birthday. Her mom had never been on an airplane before! When Lasha walked in from work, and saw her mother sitting on the sofa, she almost had a heart attack. What a heartfelt and memorable gift.

Lasha is one of seven children, and among the many things her mother required, was that her children learned to cook. Lasha puts on a big Thanksgiving spread, with the regular “fixins” but she can also make a darn good lasagna. She has four hungry kids who love her fantastic cooking.

If Lasha ever finds herself with a bit of free time, she might turn on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” but her husband has told her that he is most definitely NOT a fan.

When Lasha talks about her co-workers, she lights up. She describes them as, “phenomenal.” They are down-to-earth and easy-going, and she says it is a pleasure to come to work every day. In fact, she says that giving a child a haircut is stress-free for her. The only thing that makes Lasha anxious at work, is when she has ten “requests” in the waiting room!

Thank you, Lasha…for being the EXPERT.

Irene Njoroge, expert stylist at the Fair Oaks Cartoon Cuts, since 1994, grew up picking coffee on the family plantation with her five siblings. She was born and raised in Kenya, where she and her daughter Tanya, visit the family almost every summer.

If Irene had unlimited vacation time and funds, she would love to get to know Kenya, even better. She is a firm believer in education, and if she ever won the lottery, she would start a charity with the mission of educating all children.

Irene’s passion for education is supported by her own daughter’s focus on her studies. Tanya is a junior in high school, consistently on the honor roll, and Irene has big plans for her.

Working at Cartoon Cuts was a natural choice for Irene. As a child, she loved to watch The Jungle Book, and Mowgli is her favorite cartoon character…even to this day!

She is the queen of “Whatsapp,” a smart phone app that allows her to talk to family and friends in Kenya every day (for free). Irene enjoys cooking healthy meals, but when she wants a night out, her favorite spot is Swahili Village, a restaurant in Beltsville, MD.

Irene stays in shape by walking every morning, and she spends that time thinking about what she can do for her daughter. She takes her parenting job very seriously.

Over her more than 20 years with Cartoon Cuts, Irene has gotten to know her clients, and they have gotten to know her. She calls them her “family”. Her clients are truly dedicated. In fact, she told me about her four “sons.” They are actually all college boys from four different families. Two are at Virginia Tech, one is at Christopher Newport University, and one is at The University of Virginia. They have been Irene’s customers forever, and they schedule their haircuts over their spring breaks, when they are home! At this point, they don’t need their moms to bring them to Cartoon Cuts.

Thank you, Irene…for being the EXPERT.

Hang Le started at Cartoon Cuts at Dulles Town Center in 2009. Hang smiles when she talks about her customers. She recently told me about one boy, who cried for every haircut, starting with his first haircut before he turned one, and then for every subsequent haircut for two years! Hang worked with him, patiently, letting him feel the buzz of the clippers on the side of his hand. Finally, after monthly visits over two long years, he began to relax. He is now 7-years-old, and the proud big brother to two little sisters. Hang cuts all of their heads!

Hang was born in Vietnam and moved to Alabama in 1976, when her husband took a chemical engineering job there. She had two young daughters, and she stayed home with them for a while. She loved being home, but she also really wanted to spend some time out of the house. She settled on a job as a hostess at an Alabama restaurant.

Eventually, Hang and her family moved to Northern Virginia to be closer to her extended family. Those two little girls are now all grown up. One daughter has three children of her own and one on the way!

Hang admits that having grandchildren is the best thing that ever happened to her. Her daughter’s family lives in Jacksonville, and Hang visits at least once a year.

When Hang has a little downtime, she likes to watch television. She is a big Oprah fan, and she enjoys other talk shows and comedies. She admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she loves watching all of the “Real Housewives” series, and she even manages to keep track of every one of them!

Hang loves all kinds of music, and she is a big fan of Disney’s, “Frozen,” which works out well, since she gets to watch it at least six times a day. Hang adores children and the flexibility of her job at Cartoon Cuts. She spends time talking to the kids and their parents so she can really get to know the whole family.

Thank you, Hang…for being the EXPERT.

Congratulations are in order for Cartoon Cuts Area Manager, Vilma Duarte, who is based at The Falls Shopping Center in Miami. Vilma’s first grandchild was born last month, and her name is Ava Elizabeth! Vilma describes meeting her granddaughter as the best moment of her life.

Vilma started working at Cartoon Cuts in 2008, but she was not new to cutting kids’ hair. Vilma had lived in San Francisco and worked at a salon called, “Just Kids Cuts & Beauty Market.” She has always had a passion for working with kids, and when she found out she was moving from San Francisco to Miami, she scoured the Internet to find a place that specialized in children. Imagine her delight, when she discovered Cartoon Cuts.

Day after day, requests pour in for Vilma; but it is not always easy. In fact, Vilma said that, “sometimes, it breaks your heart.” She was referring to a client of hers, a child with special needs, who had visited Cartoon Cuts recently. The child is a four-year-old, non-verbal boy, who runs through the salon, screaming and flailing his arms. Normally, his father brings him into Cartoon Cuts, but on this day, his mom had brought him in. She was visibly distraught; it had already been a difficult day.

When Vilma approached, she used a soothing voice and said simply, “I am here. It is okay.” The boy grabbed Vilma’s arm, but Vilma kept repeating her words, until he finally relaxed. She was able to cut his hair, and after the haircut, the boy hugged Vilma. Watching this tender moment, the boy’s mother started to cry. She kept telling Vilma how grateful she was.

It is times like these that keep Vilma going. She knows that she matters to her clients and their families.

During her limited time off, Vilma enjoys music. In fact, her favorite television show is, “The Voice.” She is also a big fan of “Pinocchio,” and she even collects various Pinocchios, as a hobby.

As one of the most-requested stylists in the company, the wait for Vilma is often long, but her customers are not deterred.

Thank you, Vilma…for being the EXPERT.

Back in 2005, Sharon Palacios had a health scare.  She spent some time in the hospital, and by the end of the year, she had finished her treatments.  It was early 2006, when she was walking through the Mall at Wellington Green.  From one end of the mall, she spotted a bright and colorful store, with smiling children and a positive vibe.  She called it a “happy place,” and it drew her in.

Sharon introduced herself to the manager, and the very next day, she started working at Cartoon Cuts!

Sharon was born in Trinidad.  She visits her mother and father a couple of times a year, and she still has a lot of family there.  Sharon has one daughter and one son, and her husband is from Colombia.

Recently, Sharon and her best friend went to New York City to see Mamma Mia.  Sharon is a huge ABBA fan.

When I asked her what she liked most about working at Cartoon Cuts, she exclaimed, “I like EVERYTHING about Cartoon Cuts…I honestly do!”

If Sharon won the lottery, she would travel to Europe and Australia.  And, Alaska is definitely on the bucket list.

Sharon enjoys soap operas on television, and her favorites are General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.

Not long ago, Sharon took a dream cruise to the Greek Islands.  The ship stopped at Mykonos, Santorini, Olympia and Athens.  The travel bug has clearly bitten Sharon!

Sharon has received countless glowing reviews, and her warmth and positivity come through loud and clear, whether she is cutting the hair of a child with special needs, or training a new employee.

Thank you, Sharon…for being the EXPERT!

Gloria Yanes loves Italian food. She always orders Chicken Parmesan at her favorite restaurant, Macaroni Grill. She is a single mom of two daughters, ages 14 and 16. And, she runs a tight ship at home…homework and church come first…then, maybe a trip to the movies, the beach or even the mall.

Gloria came to the US from Guatemala 20 years ago, and she started at Cartoon Cuts in 2000. As a child, she participated in gymnastics, and she now loves to watch gymnasts perform on the TV. She keeps in shape doing a workout called, “Spin-sanity.”

When she is home, and she is not overseeing homework or driving her girls to activities, she relaxes by watching the news.

Her favorite cartoon character is, “Tweety Bird,” famous for the line, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”

Gloria’s goal is to raise her daughters as professionals and great human beings, and it sounds like she is well on her way to that accomplishment.

She is pleased that Cartoon Cuts is building a school for those in Guatemala who are less fortunate. She lives by the mantra, “Put others first,” and she takes care of many family members in Guatemala.

Thank you, Gloria…for being the EXPERT.

There’s a small town in South Carolina called, Ninety-Six. And, when I say small…I mean small. There are fewer than 2000 people in Ninety-Six! Our very own, Jessena Thomas was born there, and she still visits her family there.

Jessena grew up with a strong work ethic. By the time she was ten, Jessena was helping her father, who worked for a cleaning company. To this day, she doesn’t mind cleaning (except for laundry, her least favorite chore)! She is one of our longest-term Congressional Plaza stylists…she started at Cartoon Cuts in 1995, 20 years ago!

Jessena has been married for 28 years. She and her husband, Clinton, have two sons in their 20’s. Jessena and Clinton met when Jessena was only 16 years old. There was an immediate attraction. About a year after they met, Clinton took Jessena to her high school prom, in his hot red MR-2 Toyota. While the car was super cool, she recognized true love, and they were married a year later.

When I asked her about pets, (I was thinking dogs and cats…maybe even gerbils), Jessena surprised me…she has birds. In fact, she used to have 11 of them! She has finches…mostly white and black, but the clown finches are the beautiful ones…the colors of Cartoon Cuts!

Her favorite beverage is iced tea (although she wouldn’t turn down a pina colada). As a child, her favorite food was fried chicken; and as an adult…guess what…her favorite food is still fried chicken. If she goes out to eat, she loves to get the baby back ribs at TGIF.

Jessena adores working with children. When she walks into Cartoon Cuts and sees the little customers with their big smiles, she is energized. She has one client who has been coming to see her since he was 3 years old. He is now 19, and comes in to see her every time he is home from COLLEGE. Now, that is impressive.

Thank you, Jessena…for being the EXPERT.

Myrna Ortiz adopted a daughter seven years ago in the Philippines. Little Natasha is beautiful and charming–with long dark hair, and big brown eyes. But, due to the stringent adoption laws, between the US and the Philippines, Natasha remains in the Philippines, with Myrna’s brother and his wife.

Myrna has worked tirelessly with government officials to try to bring Natasha here, but it is a long and frustrating process. Myrna is Filipino, and she returns to the Philippines each year to spend time with Natasha and other family members. She hopes that, one day, she will be boarding the airplane with Natasha at her side.

While Myrna is frustrated with the adoption process, there is some very exciting news in Myrna’s life. She has just married the love of her life. Approximately 17 years ago, Myrna met a “nice guy” on Lee Highway. They were each in other relationships at that time, and for the past 17 years, led separate lives. It was serendipitous, that their paths crossed again, and this meeting led to an engagement!

Myrna loves to spend time enjoying her garden, sipping a glass of red wine. She has two cats, named Peanut and Rocco. She is an avid fan of “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol,” and she confessed that you might one day find HER at a dance club.

Myrna started at Cartoon Cuts in 1994 at our Old Keene Mill (Springfield) location. She was right out of beauty school. Myrna’s first job ever was as a nanny for her aunt and uncle. This proved to be a good training ground for her years with Cartoon Cuts!

Myrna said that the best part of her job is that she gets to work with kids every day, at the Fair Oaks Mall Cartoon Cuts.

Thank you, Myrna…for being the EXPERT.

From age 21 to 27, Naty Cortez owned her own salon in Puerto Rico. She told me that people would often come in to the salon, and ask for her mother, assuming that she must work for someone older. She had to explain to the potential customers, that she OWNED the salon!

Naty followed her husband to Houston, TX, and eventually to South Florida. She stayed home to raise their three kids, and her daughter gets credit for connecting her to Cartoon Cuts. One of her daughter’s friends at school had a mom who worked for the company. She told Naty’s daughter, who then told her mom. Naty started with Cartoon Cuts in May, 2009.

It was a perfect match. Naty loves working with children. She credits patience and gentleness for her success. Working with kids can be a challenge, but Naty told me that no matter how long it takes, she strives to make the kids and their parents…happy.

Naty loves dogs too. Sadly, she lost her beautiful Maltese, Angel, about 18 months ago. However, she was fortunate enough to inherit a dog from a friend…another Maltese, named Sabrina!

If given the choice between a trip to Alaska, or a trip to Hawaii, Naty would choose Alaska. Why? Because she has never seen snow! She visited NY a couple of times, but there were only a few flakes. She figures that Alaska would have mounds of snow.

Naty likes to cook. She specializes in Puerto Rican chicken, vegetables, rice and beans. Her favorite section of the grocery store is the produce section…she just loves all the colors of the vegetables.

Thank you, Naty…for being the EXPERT.

Naty works in our location in Coral Springs, Florida.

Binh Dang is afraid to fly; yet she loves to travel…especially to the beach.

She enjoys the warm waters of Myrtle Beach, and visits as often as she can…

While Myrtle Beach is a great destination, Binh’s son wanted his mother to experience something more…the powdery sand and the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. With this in mind, he bought her an airplane ticket to the Bahamas.

Binh reminded her son that she was afraid of flying. He explained that he had paid for the flight, and he could not get his money back, if she did not take the trip. She was trapped…she either had to conquer her fear of flying, or allow her son’s hard-earned money to go to waste.

What to do?

Binh ultimately decided to go to the Bahamas. She had the “time of her life,” and her son was thrilled.

A little bit of history…Binh was born in Vietnam, and she came to the US in 1987. She started at Cartoon Cuts at Fair Oaks in 1995, and she still remembers her first day…a crazy, busy Saturday, with a line out the door!

Binh had recently finished beauty school, and this was her first job. She remembers the feeling of butterflies in her stomach, as she started each haircut that day.

In time, that nervousness was replaced with confidence. Twenty years later, Binh is one of Cartoon Cuts’ top stylists. She told me that she loves the company and thinks that the children are so cute. Shortly after she started at Cartoon Cuts, she remembers singing in her kitchen, while she was cooking.

“I love you. You love me. We’re a happy fam-i-ly…”

She realized she was not just humming a pop tune or old favorite, but it was the theme to “Barney!”

When I asked Binh for the secret to her success, she replied, “I just try to do my best. I listen, and do what the customers ask…because you cannot put the hair back!”

Thank you, Binh…for being the EXPERT.