Being on TV was never part of Jonathan Morris’ plan as an entrepreneur.
He didn’t dream of the cameras when he launched his first “business” selling bookmarks to classmates in fourth grade. He wasn’t seeking the limelight when he sold burned CDs to friends in high school. And when he sold rhinestone-bedazzled bandanas at the height of Destiny’s Child’s fame, he certainly wasn’t seeking his own.
But suddenly, the owner of Fort Worth Barber Shop and The Lathery is getting to step into one of brightest spotlights in the world — the one created by Texas’ famed Chip and Joanna Gaines. Morris will host a new show called Self Employed on the Gaineses’ forthcoming Magnolia Network. It's set to debut next year.
In a press release, the network described it like this: "Self Employed (working title) follows Fort Worth, Texas-based entrepreneur Jonathan Morris as he travels the United States meeting some of the country’s most inspiring small business owners. Together, they will share stories of unwavering resilience, insatiable ambition and the winding roads they’ve traveled to successfully build their dream jobs."
A few camera nerves aside, the unassuming 35-year-old says he’s excited to tell the stories of small business owners making their own crazy dreams come true — just like he’s done his whole life.
“For me, this is an opportunity to do what I really enjoy, which is literally meeting with entrepreneurs and growing businesses and everything that comes with it,” he says. “I’m definitely excited and looking forward to talking to people who inspire me. And I hope our conversations on camera will inspire other people, as well.”
'Chip and Joanna effect'
It’s late Friday afternoon, and Morris has just finished some voiceover work for the show. The announcement was made three days ago — along with the news that Chip and Joanna were rebooting Fixer Upper on their new network — and the week has been a whirlwind.
Morris had been interviewed by local news outlets before (most recently about a boutique hotel he’s building near Dickies Arena) and he’s somewhat of a Fort Worth celebrity.
But he’d started feeling a new “Chip and Joanna effect” as soon as the press release went out. “It’s just a different monster,” he says with a chuckle. “They make people pay attention.”
Self Employed has been in the works for some time, and Morris has gotten to have a hand in its creative evolution. It all started in 2018, when Visit Fort Worth launched a series of promotional videos called “Fort Worth Stories.”
Morris was featured in a piece called “The Entrepreneur.” In it, he talked about the culture of inclusion at his Fort Worth Barber Shop, which he opened in 2014.
Fort Worth-based Red Productions then pitched the piece to Magnolia Network — originally with the idea to create a show around the barber shop. The idea evolved into a whole series about entrepreneurs in a range of fields, with Morris as the host.
“From there, it happened really naturally,” Morris says. “It’s just what I really enjoy doing already and what I find myself doing, whether it be talking with other entrepreneurs in town or meeting with entrepreneurs when I travel.”
No spoilers, but ...
Morris won’t divulge too many secrets — they won’t start filming in earnest until the fall — but his role is to “lead conversations,” he says. He will meet entrepreneurs in their spaces, talk to them about how they got started, their goals, and challenges they’re facing. But it won't be Fixer Upper for businesses. He won’t be there to give advice or to try to rescue anyone’s business.
Talking through challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic will be inevitable — and he’ll be able to relate, he says, having had to close his barber shop for two months and then figure out how to operate differently upon reopening.
The pandemic has also forced people to suddenly change career fields and move in new directions they might never have tried, another topic he hopes to cover.
“I think this show is timely because so many people are in this transitional stage of life right now,” Morris says. “A lot of people, entrepreneurship is where they’re going to turn. We’ll maybe share a story of a place they’ve been and hope to inspire other people to work hard and find areas where they bring value to their communities.”
Morris also brings a unique perspective as a Black entrepreneur. When Magnolia Network unveiled its first 10 shows in spring, there were few faces of color shown in the previews.
“What I’m really excited about is to bring some added ‘flavor’ to the network and be able to hopefully really expand the audience,” Morris says. “I hope that what I can do is represent a broader idea of what an entrepreneur is and what it can be and hopefully inspire people that look like me to chase their dreams and pursue the things they’ve always wanted to.”
Cheerleading for Fort Worth
Morris met with the Gainses to discuss the show the way everyone meets these days — over Zoom.
“They were super cool,” he says. “I’m really excited to be working with them. They’re really focused on trying to tell positive, uplifting stories centered around entrepreneurship and design.”
He admits he did have a little geek-out moment during the meeting, though.
“The day that we talked, it was my mom’s birthday, so I asked them if they could give my mom a little shout-out,” he says. “I recorded it and sent it to my mom.”
Morris says he is amazed at the community that the Gaineses have built in Waco, especially around their Silos complex, and envisions that same sense of community for Fort Worth. An enthusiastic cheerleader of Fort Worth, he says one of the aspects of the show he is most excited about is getting to show the city off to the world.
“I feel so bullish about Fort Worth and the way the city is growing,” he says. “This is a huge opportunity to represent the city and tell people why we like this funky little town. I feel honored to represent the city that way.”