Redemption comes in many forms.
For Nick Sanchez, owner of Redemption Tattoo, the name of his shop reflects his journey.
The artist has built a successful business and a legion of fans who return to his chair time and again. But that success was hard-earned.
Sanchez had to turn his life around after a stint in prison. Later, he rebounded from the somewhat-sudden sale of his first tattoo shop.
Then came a journey of faith and, recently, a new family.
“I like the fact that he’s real,” said one of his fans, Ryan Kraemer, a Rancho El Dorado resident. “He’s not just a great artist, but he’s a real person and that’s what I like about him. It’s a very personal experience in there and I really like that.”
Perhaps that feeling comes from the Sanchez’s humble beginnings. He served a seven-year sentence behind bars for aggravated assault. But he also learned a trade.
“Being in this business, that story isn’t unique,” said Sanchez, 44. “It’s one of those trades that’s still kind of a pirate industry. I’m not saying you can do whatever you want, but there’s no one overseeing your every move. It’s where discipline and ethics come into play — you have to surround yourself with good people.”
Sanchez’s team is composed of tattooers Jonathan Hawkins and Alex Moran and front desk assistant Alexis Boyd. There is an easy banter among the four and with the stream of customers making their way through their shop.
In prison, Sanchez said supplies and equipment had to be made from scratch.
“I wouldn’t say I learned how to tattoo in prison, it was more like I learned a different way,” he said. “It’s a pretty good hustle in there. You get paid pretty good. It’s still time-consuming. But that’s all you have in there is time.”
‘I LOST THE MOJO’
On the outside again, Sanchez began work on his friends, one of whom persuaded him to take the next step.
“One of my friends said, ‘We should take my arm around and show it to everyone so they can see how great your work is,’” Sanchez said. “So, my buddy Chris drove me all around town showing off his arm because I didn’t have a car.”
That bit of promotion helped him land an apprenticeship at Alley Kat Tattoo Studio in Glendale in 2006, which changed the direction of his life. There, his formal training came under the tutelage of Antoinette Morgan, a renowned artist with a national reputation.
“I owe that woman everything,” he said of Morgan. “With my past, it was hard to get a job — you know, nobody wants to hire someone who is just out of prison. I didn’t know you could make a living doing tattoos.”
His journey took him to several shops in the Valley and finally to his own business, Hold Fast Tattoo in Chandler. He operated the shop for six years, until things abruptly
“I walked in one day and the energy just wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “I lost the mojo. But one thing that was good was that I was smart enough to get out before I ran it into the ground or lost it altogether.”
Personal issues, including a divorce, played a role in his stepping away from Hold Fast, but he did so on good terms, selling the business to another artist. He moved to Flagstaff for a short period, and returned when winter hit.
“It was just way too cold up there,” said the Mesa native, who has lived most of his life in and around the Valley. His return served to reaffirm his faith.
“I am a believer,” he said. “I’m not a hardcore Christian, but to put it simply, I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life. It’s about the feeling I get when I pray. That’s why I believe. I’ve had his hand in my life too many times not to, and not to think I was being guided by something. This shop was a chance to do it over again from the shop I owned in Chandler.”
‘IT’S THE PERSONAL TOUCH’
He has taken advantage of a second chance in his personal life as well. He and his wife Jami, who celebrate their 7th anniversary this month, have two daughters.
Whatever Sanchez’s motivation — family, faith or personal renaissance — his customers rave about his shop, and especially the quality of the work. But another, more subtle reason comes through — community.
“It’s just a very comfortable environment,” said Norm Bradley of Hidden Valley, who has
three tattoos done by Sanchez. “We can listen to any music we want, and it’s great conversation. It’s like getting a tattoo from an old buddy even though we’ve only known each other for a short time. It seems like what a neighborhood barber shop used to be.”
Kraemer agreed, saying the atmosphere is as important as the great ink work.
“It’s the personal touch that makes him different,” Kraemer said. “I’ve gone to a couple of other places, and it was like going into a fast food restaurant. With Nick, you talk to him, he’ll make recommendations, we have good conversations, and it’s more personal.”
Sanchez said the easy feeling that permeates the shop is organic.
“I guess it comes from the way we do things,” he said.
Sanchez said most customers are pretty sure what they want, and some want to replicate
someone else’s tattoo. But he and his fellow inkers always push them to make it at least a bit unique, he said.
Dawn Houle, who lives in Desert Passage, came upon Redemption and Sanchez almost by
accident, but now will go nowhere else.
“I had seen some recommendations, so I messaged him and went and talked to him,” she
said. “His shop was nice and clean, and everyone was really nice, so I picked him. When he’s working on you, it’s just a normal conversation, and that really helps you relax.”
Houle said that when Sanchez tattooed her back from neck to tailbone, he made her feel “totally comfortable the whole time” even though she was mostly undressed for much of
For Kraemer, the shop vibe is great, but Sanchez’ skills take him to another level.
“I haven’t seen him not being able to do anything I’ve ever asked him for,” he said. “He
can draw anything.”
For someone like Sanchez, that sounds a lot like redemption.
19428 N. Maricopa Road
Occupation: Owner, Redemption Tattoo
Family: Wife Jami and daughters Sophia, 5, and Harlow, 3
Maricopan since: 2015
Lives in: Maricopa Meadows
On how he learned the business: “When I first started, the owner of the shop said, ‘You’re going to do whatever comes through that door, and if you don’t, you’re going to leave.’ It makes you a better tattooer. Working in different shops, the owners put different responsibilities on you, and then one day you’ve learned how to run your own shop.”
This item appears in the May issue of InMaricopa magazine.