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San Clemente Journal

The Shark Tank - From Photos to Barbering

Feb 28, 2019 01:38PM ● By Mike Chamberlin

Chris Meek in the Shark Tank.

by Mike Chamberlin

If you live in San Clemente, you’ve driven by it a hundred times. It’s been there for almost a half century. It’s had many faces and could tell a million stories if it could speak. 
The “it” referred to sits in the El Camino Plaza on El Camino Real, across from the Ralph’s grocery store. It’s a small unassuming little kiosk of sorts. At this point in time it’s called The Shark Tank and it’s a barbershop, a familiar spot for many locals and a ton of Camp Pendleton marines. 

This establishment was originally built in the late 1960s as Fotomat, a drive-up photo drop-off. You literally could drive up to the window, drop off your film (something used for photos before digital cameras and iPhones), and within 24 hours, pick up your developed photos. All this and you never had to get out of your car! It was perhaps one of the first “drive-up” window services in the city. 

Over the years the kiosk has changed hands many times. It was a boutique for a while, then a dog wash, and it even sat vacant a few times. But perhaps now, that little kiosk has found a permanent home in the hands of Chris Meek, the originator and owner of The Shark Tank. 

“It got its name when a friend referred to it as a fish tank (it has four walls of glass), and I just went with the idea,” Chris explained. That idea was refined and The Shark Tank became a reality.

Journey to Success
Chris has had an interesting journey in hair cutting. When he moved to San Clemente in 1994, he was mostly interested in surfing, but needed a job. His grandmother told him if he could find and hold a job for a solid year, she would buy him a car. Coming from four generations of barbers, he applied and took a job cutting hair at John and Wayne’s Barbershop in the Kehoe Plaza of San Clemente. He was so successful at his first hair cutting experience that be bought his own car and told his grandmother to keep her money. And to this day he says he owes everything to his first boss, Alison Carter. 
“Alison showed me a lot of love and a work ethic that I still use today,” Chris said. Part of that work ethic means understanding marines and their needs. Chris was raised in the Marine Corps and is well aware of their hairstyles and timetable. 

“The marines come in every Sunday, and we try to bring some joy to them and treat them with respect.” 

Marines move on, but many of Chris’s clientele are regulars, and the regulars are now bringing in their kids. The Shark Tank has been so successful that Chris has now expanded upstairs to a second suite, adding 11 barbers. 

One of them is Lupe, who says of the Shark Tank owner, “Chris has become one of my dearest friends since I met him five-years-ago.” She added, “He’s ambitious to succeed in life; that’s just who he is.” 

Even the plaza owner, Allyson Presta, has nothing but praise for Chris. “He’s open all the time, even Saturdays and Sundays.” And she added, “He understands the business and basically, he’s a worker!” 

The Shark Tank has become more than just a building or a shop; it’s the home of one man’s dreams. Chris shared, “I owe it all to God, my family, friends and the whole industry of barbering.” 

A footnote to this story … I spent my career as a Radio/TV broadcaster, and one of my first jobs was working for KAPX Radio in San Clemente. Ironically, our studios were located in the new upstairs expansion of the Shark Tank in the El Camino Plaza. When I sit and get my haircut, I can’t help but reminisce about a time long ago. What are the odds that I now get my hair cut in the same room in which I once reported on President Nixon and the Western White House and broadcast the Orange County news? It’s a small world.

Contact Chris for an appointment. 

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