Minn. cobbler rethinks classic footwear

  • Article by: MORGAN MERCER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2013 - 4:28 PM

Minnesota ahead of the trend? You betcha. A Waconia cobbler is bringing a pop of color to classic men's shoes.

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From his basement workshop in Waconia, former sneakerhead Tamas “Zen” Pomazi repurposes classic dress shoes and work boots with eye-popping colored soles. The cobbler’s little helper: Biggie Smalls.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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The smell hits first as you descend the short flight of steps into the basement. It’s sharp and overpowering; a mix of rubber and old leather. This is where old shoes go to be reborn.

The basement workshop in Tamas “Zen” Pomazi’s Waconia home is filled with shoes: Red Wing work boots, wingtips and loafers overflow the shelf space and sprawl across the floor.

Each aging shoe will go through the same process — Pomazi pulls them apart, then stitches them back together, and finally, outfits the bottom with an eye-popping custom-colored sole.

“I take what is destitute, obsolete and not wearable — and make it wearable,” said Pomazi, 43, whose customers often bring him shoes passed down to them by their fathers or grandfathers.

By the time GQ and Esquire began calling colored soles a trend to watch last year, Pomazi had firmly established himself as the color-obsessed cobbler of the Twin Cities. He sets himself apart by bringing old-world craftsmanship to an industry filled with disposable fast fashion. Yet like the shoes he customizes, the brash, New York-born shoemaker went through his own process of rebirth. He ran afoul of the law as a young man, but now spends his days outfitting groomed professionals who want to rethink classic footwear.

His two-man company, Greenwich Vintage, is primarily an online operation, but the soles are now popping up in men’s boutiques such as Martin Patrick 3 in Minneapolis, as well as at stores in Chicago and Charlotte. His service has become a fixture at NorthernGrade, the Twin Cities’ annual men’s pop-up market dedicated to American-made goods.

Katherine McMillan, NorthernGrade’s co-founder, said Pomazi has cornered the market in Minnesota.

“There’s nobody out there doing what he does,” she said.

Cobbled together

At a time when most shoes are constructed on the other side of the world, a local cobbler may seem like an antiquated notion.

“Nobody wants to get their hands dirty and make shoes anymore,” said Pomazi, who likes to attribute his bluntness to his New York roots.

His process is meticulous. In his workshop, Pomazi has four minutes to pour the liquid rubber from the mixing bowl into the mold before it starts to harden. On a recent afternoon, the chosen color is blood red. Ninety minutes later, he pops the crimson sole out of the mold and heads to his second workspace at Papa’s Shoe Repair in downtown Waconia. He glues the new sole onto the bottom of the shoe, then grinds the excess rubber off the curved edges. Bellied up to the large machine, even Pomazi’s linebacker build looks small.

“If you look away for a millisecond you’re going to lose a finger,” he shouted over the drone of the grinder’s spinning wheel.

Fully assembled, a pair of his colored-sole shoes usually costs $225 to $275. If you don’t have old shoes in need of resoling, he’ll source a vintage pair for you.

Pomazi’s hands-on approach is what has got him noticed in the Twin Cities fashion scene, said Erick DeLeon, manager of Martin Patrick 3.

“He’s straight-upfront and honest. He’s got his own style and will tell you like it is,” DeLeon said. “A lot of people know about him. If they don’t know him, they know of him.”

DeLeon thinks that same assuredness translates to people who want to tweak their brown and black footwear.

“Having a little color on the sole of your shoe displays great confidence,” he said.

  • related content

  • Greenwich Vintage

    What: Cobbler Tamas “Zen” Pomazi refurbishes classic American-made shoes — wingtips, oxfords and work boots — with an array of colored rubber soles. He’ll also redesign the body of a dress shoe with colorful patterns.

    Cost: Averaging $225-$275, depending on the shoe. Info: www.greenwichvintage.us.

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