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When Pomazi steps outside, he’s typically “suited and booted” as he likes to say — his dark gray hair combed back, wearing a dress shirt, vest and pants cuffed at the bottom. Colored soles on his feet, of course.
“He’s got a great idea of how a gentleman should dress,” said Max Miller, Pomazi’s business partner in Greenwich Vintage.
But his look belies his past. Gone is the graffiti artist who wore sneakers, baggy clothes and tracksuits. The son of Hungarian immigrants, the New Yorker moved as a teen to Los Angeles, where he took to spray-painting buildings with his moniker, “Zen.” The hobby spilled over into sneaker culture, where he got his first taste of custom shoes.
Along the way, he tested the law far beyond graffiti.
“I remember coming home every other day in cuffs,” Pomazi said.
In the 1980s, he began selling drugs, eventually landing a five-year sentence for drug trafficking and possession in the Florida Department of Corrections.
“That was the darkest point in both of our lives,” said his mother, Ria Rogers, 62, who lives in Hallandale, Fla.
More than 10 years later, the cobbler leads a quieter life in Waconia with his wife and their Chihuahua, Biggie Smalls.
After moving to Minnesota, his discovery of a pair of shoes from his stepfather’s old-school wardrobe sparked the cobbler’s color-soles endeavor. Pomazi had inherited a pair of old wingtips, but he couldn’t get past how rigid they felt. The shoes needed a new sole. The former sneakerhead thought they could use some color — and his shoe business was born.
Over the past year, several mainstream men’s shoemakers have jumped on the colored-sole bandwagon, including Sperry, Cole Haan, Aldo and Rockport. All the while, Pomazi’s resoling business has been taking shape from his suburban basement, adding him to the ranks of the Minnesota-made menswear movement.
A Greenwich Vintage flag hangs on a concrete wall in his workshop; spray paint marks the other. But the cobbler has his sights set on moving out of his basement and to a bigger workspace, where he can produce his products “in a big way.” But while Pomazi said he wants his shoes in every “mom and pop shoe shop across the country,” he wants them made here, in Minnesota.
“People are seeing what [I’m] doing is coming from a genuine, bottom-of-my-heart place,” Pomazi said.
Indeed, he treats each shoe sale like a handshake agreement, letting customers know they can call him personally if anything goes wrong. Maybe that’s the Minnesotan in him.
“The one thing about Minnesota — whenever we [travel] anywhere, on the way back I have a little smirk on my face,” Pomazi said.
The cobbler smiles because he’s returning to what he calls his little “secret.” He’s not coming back to one of the country’s highbrow fashion meccas. He’s coming back to humble Minnesota — back to his basement.
Morgan Mercer is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.