A Conversation with Craig Martin

By David Michael Newstead.

I first learned about Quinntessential Gentleman in 2013. I was working on a book about shaving, which inevitably drew me to the Baltimore-based clothing store and barbershop. There, I received my first ever straight-razor shave and I was really impressed by the experience. The store was this unique time capsule of classic styles and a sort of anchor to men at their best. There were accessories and ties, a cadre of expert barbers and a pool table stretched along part of the waiting room. Not long after that, I sought out the owner and discovered that there’s a compelling story at the heart of his business, which is approaching its tenth anniversary next year.

Quinntessential Gentleman is spelled wrong. The owner, Craig Martin, told me that people point this out to him every so often with a sorry-to-have-to-tell-you-this tone in their voice. Fortunately though, the error is intentional. His business is named after his mother, Quinn, and is a lasting reminder of the lessons she tried to instill in her son. His father worked in advertising on Madison Avenue and between the two of them, they raised an entrepreneur who has made being well dressed and well groomed the foundation for a successful store.

“I had the idea for about 20 years and I always knew I wanted to own my own business,” he explained.

But it wasn’t until 2003 that Craig began outlining his concept in more detail. In 2004, he quit his corporate job at an aerospace firm and devoted his entire life savings to the venture. By 2005, Quinntessential Gentleman was open for business and it had a slow, steadily growing clientele of professionals. There was one barber and the store was much smaller then.

A decade later, Craig Martin is giving me a guided tour of their expanding facilities. What started as just an idea has grown into a 12,000 square foot, five-story castle near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, gradually taking over the other floors in the building. Today, there’s 20 staff members. And as we walked around, Craig pointed out various features of his business with unstated pride: a wet bar, a cigar lounge, master tailoring station, grooming areas, boutique clothing selection, and spa. I looked over at a table for playing cards and nearby there was a chalk board decorated by local artists hanging on the wall. Beyond that, a sea of multicolored bow ties.

“The concept behind the whole store is value,” he told me. “What is the value proposition of each item I carry? Does it have history? Quality? Does it tell a story?” Craig emphasized this by picking up a Tissot watch, which has been crafting time pieces since the 1850’s.

Throughout our conversation, the idea of value proposition was turned inward on the store itself. History, quality, and a sense of story became very apparent and the arc of one businessman’s life thus far took definite shape. He tells me about a serious cut on his neck from using a straight-razor on himself in college. Knowing the risks, Craig now meticulously trains his staff in proper technique and is the personal practice dummy before men like me ever receive a straight-razor shave. He talked about being a parent and how his own father was initially reluctant, but eventually came around to the idea behind his now thriving business. There were the early and sometimes slow beginnings for the store, the Great Recession, and today resounding success.

When I asked him about the future, Craig explained his vision of a boutique men’s department store where they took care of people from head-to-toe: from the hat they’re wearing down to their shoes and everything in-between. What he highlighted most though concerned building confidence. All the products and services at Quinntessential Gentleman are just building blocks for men to present themselves at their best. It could be through a haircut, a nice tie, or new suit, but I think it’s a value proposition that’s worth considering.

Quinntessential Gentleman
31 South Calvert Street in Baltimore
For Appointments, Call 410-685-7428