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  • Tara Crutchfield

Scifo on Sushi, Soccer, and Shampoo

If you’ve ever savored the sashimi at downtown Winter Haven’s Tsunami Sushi or gotten a trim at Haircut Naturally, you probably know Mario Scifo. He’s the one with the big personality – and the skills and ambitions behind it to make waves in the downtown restaurant scene.

Mario Scifo was born on the Mediterranean island of Malta. His family came to New York in 1951. Of his five sisters and one brother, one sister stayed in the Big Apple. She had their names engraved in granite on Ellis Island to honor their immigration to the United States.

At 19, Scifo joined the United States Navy, where he became a barber. Four years later, fresh out of the Navy, he met up with a friend at a New York bar. His friend suggested he check out California for a week or so. He made it to the Golden Coast. “I stayed there 21 years,” said Scifo. There he became a master barber and cosmetologist. “I started as a barber and became a master barber because I wanted to know how to cut long hair – that’s when I went to beauty school in California.” He owned three salons in California, each called Haircut Naturally, along with his own shampoo company called Scifo with products like Scifoam, Scifoette, and Scifoglaze.

In his spare time, the master barber played first division soccer. “I’ve always wanted to be like my dad. He was a professional soccer player… He had a business, so I had a business. He got married, I got married. He was in the Navy, I was in the Navy. He had seven kids, and he beat me on that one,” Scifo said with a smile.

“After my own shampoo line, I got into training hairstylists and being an educator for shampoo companies,” he said. Scifo worked with companies including Rusk, Matrix, Wayne Grund, Oster, and Nelson. He kept up on the trends and continued his education – attending Vidal Sassoon Academy in London for hair cuts, Paris for coloring, and Italy for cuts and color. He traveled as an educator as well, doing hair shows at institutes around the country.

“What I’m most fond about from my craft is, I became a platform artist, that’s what I always wanted to do – travel all over the country and do hair shows,” he said, describing it as being like “a circus.” He said, “You’re there with Paul Mitchell, Vidal Sassoon, Irvine Rusk – anybody who was anybody was there. It’s almost like going to the Emmys but with hair.”

Thirty-one years ago, Scifo moved to Florida, where he’s made a name for himself as a small business owner in the community. Entrepreneurship runs in the family – Scifo’s father owned a local restaurant, Casa Catalina, for many years, and his niece Jessie Skubna owns Jessie’s Lounge and Jensen’s Corner Bar in Winter Haven.

Mario opened Haircut Naturally on Highway 27, which he ran for eleven years. In 2003, he opened Tsunami Sushi downtown, along with his fifth Haircut Naturally location. “When I was building it, people thought I was crazy,” he said of the downtown sushi spot. “In California, they’re like gas stations – they’re on every corner.” A sushi lover himself, Scifo didn’t like that he had to drive to Lakeland or Orlando to grab a bite.

“I wanted to have something downtown that everybody could enjoy,” he said. Tsunami Sushi was among the first of the current dining options in downtown Winter Haven, burgeoning a renaissance in the food scene lining Central Avenue. “The sushi bar was a nice add-on to what was to come later,” he said. Opening the restaurant was taking a chance for Scifo, who described himself as an entrepreneur. For the restaurant’s grand opening, he invited all of his clients to dine in three waves. They packed the house three times over and he made enough to pay off their debts in the first night.

While running the sushi shop and salon, Scifo started a cleaning business – One Cleans All, with the motto, “We don’t cut corners, we clean them.” Juggling the responsibilities of three enterprises, Scifo decided to focus on hair about three or four years into starting Tsunami and sold it to the current owner, Vinh Nguyen. Nguyen took note of Tsunami’s splash downtown and opened two other successful locations on Cypress Gardens Boulevard and in Lakeland. “I did it because I thought it was a good thing – and it was,” Scifo said of opening Tsunami Sushi downtown.

Focusing solely on his career as a stylist, Scifo continued at Haircut Naturally until December 23, 2020. At 75 years old, Mario Scifo had been doing hair for 55 years and was ready to retire with his wife, Tammie, also a hairstylist. Beloved by his clients to the end, Scifo’s last day in the salon was completely booked. Asked what he’ll miss most about working in the community, he said, “All my good clients.”

When he wasn’t serving up sushi, playing soccer, perfecting a style, creating his line of shampoo, or overseeing a cleaning business, he wore an inventor’s cap. According to Scifo, he made a tool combining scissors with a comb and an adjustable hanging rack for stylists’ hair tools, which he installed in his salon.

A few months into his retirement, Scifo is enjoying himself. “Right now, I’m doing all the things I’ve wanted to do around the house.” The retired hairstylist and entrepreneur is staying busy giving his Lake Wales abode a ‘new do,’ if you will, in the form of a new roof, doors, tile, lighting, painting, and the like.

A bit of sightseeing is also on Scifo’s retirement to-do list. “I’ve always wanted to travel,” he said. A well-traveled man, Scifo has been all over Europe, South America, Canada, Hawaii and says he wouldn’t mind going to Japan, Abu Dhabi, and spending more time in Europe. He’s planning a trip to Mexico, though it’s been postponed several times due to the pandemic.

With decades of success in craft and business under his belt, we asked Mario Scifo the secret to making it all happen. He said, “You’ve got to be at work every day. You have to have dedication, persistence, and you have to have a good skill.”


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