By Shanna Fujii
Interviewing Golden Rule Tattoo co-owners John O’Hagan, David Maxwell, and Jason Anthony was much like sitting down with a group of friends and reminiscing over the good ol’ days—filled with stories of hilarious adventures, instances of defying standards, and visions of colorful hopes for the future.
Golden Rule Tattoo currently has two Phoenix locations, with a brand-new location under construction. The new shop located on Roosevelt and 6th Street will eventually replace their current Roosevelt shop and is set to open late this year. The following interview is a compilation of all three owners’ responses, sprinkled with bits of sarcasm and humor, about the beginning of Golden Rule Tattoo to its present-day glory.
How did Golden Rule Tattoo come to be?
David: We officially opened July 3, 2009. John tricked me and Jason into starting a tattoo shop together [laughs].
Jason: I was running Golden Rule as a private studio out of a piercing shop in Mesa. John approached me and said, “My friend David has a keen business mind. We are cool. We should start something.” Then David came into the picture and I’d say that’s when things really started kicking off.
John: Jason was struggling to find a spot where he could do what he wanted to do in the spirit he wanted to do it. We had worked together previously at other tattoo shops around town before I left to pursue real estate. David and I were partners in real estate.
David: We also went to kindergarten together.
John: The business started like how most businesses are born. You experience working for somebody else and think you can do it better, so I brought in the dream team, which for me was Jason and David. So, at a Jerry’s on Thomas, we sat down and hashed out what “better” would look like and made it happen.
In the beginning, what was a value you guys decided was crucial to your business model?
David: We’re 10 years in now and sometimes we forget our beginnings, but when we started, we really asked ourselves, “What’s going to set us apart? How do three partners—of which only one of them tattoos (Jason)—make a tattoo shop world-famous and the best it can possibly be? And then we thought: What are people afraid of? They’re afraid of being judged, treated poorly,
Jason: —rude tattooers who think they’re cooler than everybody else.
David: Yeah, and they’re afraid they’ve got to be a certain way to get a tattoo. We wanted to shatter that from day one and make a place that was open and welcome for all. Hence, “Golden Rule” and its idea of “do unto others.” We wanted people to know we are friendly, clean, and professional. We also wanted longevity and staying power. A lot of businesses come and go downtown, but we decided we’re not leaving.
In what ways has Golden Rule grown and what would you say has been the best part about it?
David: We started in a 400 square foot unit with four or five tattoo artists, moved to a space that was 800 square feet, and just bought a building we’re renovating that will host our 16 artists. It’s funny, we just recently talked about how our artists are buying houses, getting married, having kids…they’re achieving their goals through stability. Sometimes I think we provide the stability, but they do the same for us. It’s a mutually symbiotic relationship.
John: I think, traditionally, tattooers and tattoo shops have this nomadic lifestyle. Artists go from shop to shop, tattoo shops open and close. Stability is not a super “sexy” thing, but when it’s there, you appreciate it. That’s kind of been our lowkey sales pitch: the lights are on, the doors are open, your appointments are booked, and we care about you as a person. You don’t have to worry about any of the logistics. You just get to come in and tattoo in a positive environment.
When you hire employees, what do you look for?
Jason: To get hired at Golden Rule as a tattoo artist, you’ve got to check off a lot of boxes. We’ve been honing the process and will continue to hone the process as we grow the shop. And the crew we have now is just spectacular.
John: We’re up to 16 artists and almost every single style is represented. We’ve got the top of the food chain at Golden Rule.
David: If we’re being honest, tattoos can hurt and they cost a little bit, but we want people to choose us. That’s why we look for employees (tattoo artists and administration) who make people feel comfortable, welcome, and ultimately give customers a killer tattoo that exceeds their expectations. We treat people well and people respond. We’ve won Best of Phoenix, Best of Arizona, and some other awards online. Jason has also won Best Tattoo Artist of the Year for the past seven out of eight years. The year he didn’t get it, Paulski, another artist that works in our Camelback shop, won the award.
What was your first tattoo?
Jason: I got mine in South Carolina in the 90s before it was legal from a friend. He called me asking if I wanted a tattoo and of course I said yes. I didn’t know what I wanted, but he told me to bring $30. I wrote down directions to his house in my sketchbook (because it was the 90s) and grabbed 30 bucks. I walked into his garage that was converted into a tattoo shop and from a flashcard set that said Learn How To Write Chinese, chose to get the word “lucid” in Chinese on my leg.
John: The day I turned 18, I got three big X’s on my back. I’m currently getting it lasered off.
Jason: It’s huge. Like shoulder to shoulder. And it’s on fire!
John: Yeah, it’s got some flames on it…
David: Ironically with John’s flames, my first tattoo is of the Maltese cross. My background is a fire chief here in the Valley. I waited until I worked one year full-time at the fire department to get my tattoo.
For someone who has never been to Roosevelt Row, where is one place you think they should visit?
Jason: Fair Trade—that Jack in the Sant breakfast sandwich is just so good. They’ve been at that one spot forever and they’ve stayed consistent. I think there’s a very strong sense of community around that shop as well.
John: Jobot Coffee & Bar. To me, they’ve been emblematic of Roosevelt Row as far as starting really small, keeping that sense of community, and growing in a healthy manner not in the expense of anyone else. And they have the best coffee and food.
David: I’ve got to throw a plug for Carly’s Bistro. They have banging sandwiches, they’re open late, they have vegan options. They’ve been really great landlords to us through this transition and have been instrumental on so many levels.
Anything you wish to say to the Phoenix community?
David: We just want to say how much we appreciate all the warm reception from Phoenix and our clients over the past ten years. We take every tattoo seriously and want to make people’s dreams come true and tell their story.
ABOUT AUTHOR SHANNA FUJII
Shanna Fujii is a colorful wordsmith published on GoDaddy, Arizona Foothills, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and more. When she’s not busy adding spice to copy for clients, she’s checking things off her bucket list, running her philanthropic streetwear brand,Honey & Misfits, or writing and producing short films. She’s a french fry connoisseur and will never be caught without a pair of worn-in Converse. Connect with her on LinkedIn.