Do’s & Tattoos has been an icon on El Paso’s west side for the last 6 years. Recently the establishment underwent a change of ownership. Lee Fernandez, one of the shop’s principal tattoo artists, and his father Charlie, acquired the shop a few months ago.
Before the transition, the shop doubled as a tattoo parlor and salon. Internal struggles caused many of the artists and stylists to quit—however, 2 diehard artists remained. Now “Royale” and “Buzz” along with Lee, apprentice artist Mark, piercer Bea and a newly-acquired barber make up the staff. This skeleton crew has not only kept the business afloat, but has been pivotal in the driving and progressive success of the shop.
We recently caught up with Lee and Royale in the dungeon of the shop for some conversation about triumph and pain.
FM: How did you acquire the shop?
LF: I’ve been tattooing for about 13 years. Before I bought this place, I worked at a shop on the east side; that’s where I met Royale. After a while, Royale left there and came here. I came about the place through getting the job here with Royale. When I started, the owners were already talking about having to shut down because of family obligations and stuff. At the time, I was already researching how much it would cost to operate a shop, and I had already generated a little bit of money. The owner wanted to continue the shop the way it was and the love he had in his heart for it is what inspired me to really push for getting it, because that’s the kind of love I had for the shop I started in. I promised the owner that I wouldn’t change the name, which is why it still has the name everyone knows.
FM: I know originally the place was a tattoo parlor as well as a salon. Did you keep it like that?
LF: We’re starting to [do hair] again. When ownership and management changed, there was a big lag in what was going on here. We kind of cleaned house, and a lot of people knew it was coming, and didn’t want to deal with it, so they left on their own terms; so pretty much the entire salon left. Now we’re slowly trying to rebuild it. There are 3 [tattoo] artists and one piercer, and we just recently got a barber who’ll be here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
FM: Besides you, there are two more tattoo artists here. How did you acquire them?
LF: They came with the shop, like furniture.
FM: So fully furnished?
LF: Royale and Buzz were already working here. I made Royale the manager after I acquired the shop because he runs everything the way I like. He knows what I want and there are no questions or anything.
R: It’s so funny that I hired Lee, and now I’m working for him. I’ve learned a lot from him. Actually, he taught my mentor—the person who taught me how to tattoo learned from him. There are deep roots in this place for sure. I’m glad Lee bought the shop, because this place was f**cked.
LF: When management and ownership changed, people didn’t know what to do. There were a lot of lazy people here.
R: Yeah, they treated it like a clubhouse. It’s a tattoo shop and it can be chill and cool, but at the end of the day, if you’re not here working, you’re not gonna make any money. A lot of the people who worked here before didn’t like me because I was so vocal. I’d tell people what I thought.
LF: That goes back to what I was saying about him knowing how I like to run things. I was vocal too and even the owners at previous shops didn’t like me, because I was very open about them f***ing up.
R: People don’t want to get called out on what they do wrong. Having them [Lee and Charlie] as owners has changed this shop dramatically. It was actually on its way out. If me and Buzz had left, this place would have closed. When Lee made me manger, a lot of people quit. They were like ‘I’m not working for him. F**k that guy.’ I was like ‘Cool, f**k me. Get outta here!’And that’s what they all did. I don’t like people coming in here thinking they can do whatever they want. This is a shop, a business. We’re here everyday and we all put in our 110% and we make it work. To see other people slack it gets under our skin.
LF: You have the greatest job in the world, and you’re gonna be lazy?! (laughs)
R: Not everyone can say they love their job. And that shows in the way we treat our clients. I look at it like this: in this economy, we understand that this is a luxury. If you have to buy groceries or get a tattoo, I’m pretty sure you’re going to buy groceries. So what good am I doing if they come in and I treat them like garbage? They’re here giving me their hard-earned money, so of course, I’m going to be super nice and try to deliver what it is they’re asking for. Not a lot of shops or artists think like that. But that’s why, I mean look at my calendar right here.
FM: Man, you’re fully booked!
R:That’s how Lee’s calendar is and the same with Buzz. We’re just really trying to build up a good client base and put a good vibe out to the West side. We’re the longest lasting shop on the West side. We’ve been here since 2009.
FM: So Lee, I bet it’s a lot different running a business than just working in a shop?
LF: Yeah, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s what I’ve always wanted. Since I started tattooing, it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I’ve always had problems with people I’ve worked for because I see things I could do better. I’m very open about that and I end up upsetting people. But now that I own the shop, I can run it the way I want it—very clean, very professional.
FM: How did you raise the capital to initially invest in the shop?
LF: I have some financial backers helping me. I’ve been tattooing for 13 years and during that time, I’ve met people. Also my family has seen how much I’ve pulled for this, so everyone’s kind of rooting for me to succeed. My Dad is co-owner with me. All it took was for the opportunity to arise, and then everyone was able to pull together. Now I have not only a shop, but also a badass team who have a love for what they do that I really haven’t seen from anyone. Usually when people get to that point, they get a big ego and then they just turn into assholes.
FM: There are tons of tattoo shops in El Paso. Why would people choose to come here instead of all those other places?
LF: I think our genuine character, you know. We really appreciate our clients and we always try to make them feel welcome and like their ideas are worth tattooing. Some places you go, the artists just tattoo what they want on the client. We always at least try to work with the client to see if we can do [the tattoo they want], and if not we work around it to try to get it right. We don’t ever try to make the client feel unwanted. We have people tell us all the time that they were treated badly at other shops. We want to be the other guy—the one who did help the client.
R: I see everyone as potential [longtime] clients and potential friends. I’m only 6 years in, and I’m very patient. I remember my first time [getting a tattoo] was scary as f**k. I just try to make people feel comfortable, cause some people pass out. I’ve even seen people piss themselves after passing out. Also we work together. Like if I can’t do something, I kick it to Lee or Buzz, and they do the same thing. It’s not about me, it’s not about him. It’s about the person getting tattooed. They have to leave happy so they can go and tell 10 friends what a great experience they had here.
FM: That’s the best advertisement.
R: Exactly. If they have a shitty time, they’re gonna say ‘don’t ever go there.” We hear that all the time about other shops ‘ I went to this place, and they were dicks, or ‘look at the shitty work they did.’ But the shop is doing better now with 3 artists and one piercer. We’re making more money than we ever have, even with 6, or 7 artists here. Lee and his family saved the shop.
LF: Our volume, in terms of being able to take care of people and being comfortable, has definitely increased. Our calendars fill up like that (snaps fingers). People are clamoring over each other to get a spot.
FM: Do you have a wide variety of clients?
R: We do, but a big part of our clientele is military. Personally I don’t think they get thanked enough. They get treated like they’re dollar signs, and they’re not. We’re over here drinking beer and shit, and they’re over in a hole somewhere, getting shot at, hoping they make it home. So f**k yeah we’re going to treat them good. We’ve even had some of the Article 15 guys come through here.
FM: What’s Article 15?
R: It’s a veteran-owned military apparel company.
LF: They were the ones who got Sergeant Major of the Army Dailey here to our shop to get his first tattoo.
F: There’s a lot to be said for good customer service, but that doesn’t mean tattoos don’t hurt like hell!
R: Tattooing causes trauma to the body.
FM: How do you feel about that?
R: (Laughs) It’s fun! What do you think about causing trauma to the body Lee?
LF: It’s pretty cool.
FM: So it’s a “good pain”? Your brain releases a lot of endorphins.
LF: The brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, dopamine…all that’s released so your body can deal with the pain.
Visit Do’s & Tattos at 6409 N Mesa St, El Paso, TX 79912
Txt: Fusion staff
Photos:Do’s & Tattoos