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Man's uncle spurs splash into products for gentlemen
When MinNefer Mernahkem requested booth space at the Hillsboro Tuesday Night Market, he was initially denied.
Former market manager Lesley Wise, Mernahkem said, was concerned about how well the name of his company — Dirty Bastard — would go over with the typical farmer's market crowd. But after speaking with her and giving her samples of his products, Wise gave Mernahkem a chance, which was all he needed.
"You gotta believe in what you stand for," Mernahkem said. "And you gotta believe in your products more than the dollar."
From his home in South Hillsboro, Mernahkem produces, from scratch, all-natural ingredient shaving creams, after-shave lotions and soaps, hair pomades, various styles of classic safety razors — and even pocket squares, bead bracelets and lapel pins to help men smell good, feel good and look good.
Dirty Bastard, he said, is the gentleman's way to clean.
"As my uncle always told me, if you ain't got a dollar in your pocket ... you should always smell good, feel good and look good 'cause you never know who's watching you," Mernahkem said. "My company is not for everybody. The brand is not for everyone.
"But when you see a Dirty Bastard, you'll know a Dirty Bastard because it's about being a gentleman — taking old school ways and new school ways and combining them to be who you are."
Mernahkem's Uncle "Scoop" began making all natural homemade soaps, deodorants, dishwashing liquids and detergents in 1976 in Chicago.
"He probably gave away more than he ever sold, but that was his passion," Mernahkem said. "He had a cult-like following."
And though he mostly gave it away, Uncle Scoop wanted his nephew to join him in business, producing men's hygiene products as a family.
For years Uncle Scoop regularly asked Mernahkem if he was ready to team up, but Mernahkem dreamed bigger and aimed higher, enrolling in college and later graduate school, where he earned a master's degree in business administration, which he used to join restaurant chain McDonald's as a construction contractor.
Mernahkem believed he could rise up the ladder of success in corporate America, he said.
"I got that rude awakening that nobody cares [if] you got an MBA degree," Mernahkem said. "The promotions weren't coming like I thought the promotions should be coming."
In 2005, after years with the company, Mernahkem left McDonald's. His uncle was diagnosed with cancer the following year.
The mad scientist
Mernahkem tried other business ventures in the following years, but after Uncle Scoop passed away in 2009, Mernahkem received his old hand-written book of recipes, which had been developed over years of trial-and-error experimentation.
"Our first product was a soap that went horribly wrong," he said. "I put a hole in the kitchen ceiling when the top of the pot blew off."
As he developed and perfected his own methods, Mernahkem began making Jell-O soap and using the neighborhood kids in his Cincinnati community as guinea pigs for testing the products' marketability.
"I'd knock on their doors and say, 'Hey, try this!'" he said. "It was kind of cool because they were like, 'What is he coming up with next?' I felt like a mad scientist."
Around the holidays, after he felt comfortable with what he was making, Mernahkem gave away the products as gifts, not knowing what the response would be.
"Surprisingly, they came back and they were positive," he said.
The success convinced Mernahkem to cash in his McDonald's 401(k), which in 2012 he used as capital to get his business started. But it wasn't immediately successful.
"When I leaped, I crashed," he said. "I'll be the first to admit I crashed. In the first year of sales, we had $40."
So Mernahkem went back to the drawing board and continued to perfect his products until his wife, Nancy Thomas, who works as a corporate attorney, got a job offer in Portland.
Since arriving in Hillsboro in 2015 and getting his foot in the farmer's market network, Mernahkem has watched his followers increase over the past year, something that has left him feeling humbled, he said.
"I was like, wow, people are really paying attention to what I'm doing," he said. "I'm not doing anything amazing. I'm just going with raw gut instinct — what we call in the hood, 'Hustle and Grind.' You gotta hustle and grind because no one is giving you anything, and if you think it's going to be quick and easy, you're sadly mistaken.
"I sometimes work 10, 12 hours a day — with no pay. My salary last year was $300. But that's how you grow a company … every setback I've had has made me more resilient."
By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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