Shoes With Soul: Stylish shoe repair at Greenwich Vintage

Tamas "Zen" Pomazi, founder of Greenwich Vintage // Photo by Tj Turner

Tamas “Zen” Pomazi, founder of Greenwich Vintage // Photo by Tj Turner

It’s me!” Tamas “Zen” Pomazi shouts as he enters Papa’s Shoe Repair II in downtown Waconia. The phrase is a signal to Julio Sanchez—owner of Papa’s—that it is, indeed, him and not a customer. Pomazi passes a row of bookcases that separate the service counter and small retail racks near the entrance from the workshop in back. In the workshop, Sanchez stands hunched in front of a sewing machine, inspecting a pair of women’s Birkenstocks with a torn strap.

“We upcycle and revive old shoes and boots that have been discarded and even left for dead and bring them back to life in a world of fast fashion of footwear,” Pomazi says.

But that is not all they do. Pomazi rents space from Sanchez—though there’s no clear delineation—to operate Greenwich Vintage within Papa’s II. Greenwich’s star product is Pomazi’s colored soles, which shook the men’s fashion world in 2013. Attention spilled in from media outlets all over the country, from Men’s Journal to Thrillist to fashion blogs. Shortly after his soles became popular, Vibram, the Italian shoe conglomerate, hopped on the bandwagon. Now, they offer a resoling program almost identical to Greenwich’s.

But Greenwich soles are guaranteed by Pomazi’s handshake and careful attention. As long as he’s alive, he’ll personally resole shoes and call on customers. He re-fashions soles Old World–style, pouring hot liquid resin and polyurethane into molds by hand in his basement. The liquid hardens in four minutes, so he then quickly mixes in the dye. After, the hardened molds are taken to the back room of Papa’s for finishing.

Pamazi pours resin into the sole mold. The color splatters of hundreds of soles can be seen on the workbench // Photo by Tj Turner

Pomazi tears off the old sole // Photo by Tj Turner

Above: Pamazi pours resin into the sole mold. The color splatters of hundreds of soles can be seen on the workbench; Below: Pomazi tears off the old midsole // Photos by Tj Turner

To demonstrate, Pomazi pulls out a pair of well-worn Red Wing boots. He’ll peel off the outsole and midsole, he explains, and then rip out the threading. The cork will then get back-filled, and the bottom is ground flat. Then, he’ll stitch on a new midsole and adhere the colored outsole. The outsole is molded half an inch wider than the midsole, so the whole shoe is then strapped into a machine, clamped, dried, cut, ground, and finished with good old fashioned conditioner and a horsehair brush.

Altogether, typical turnaround is two to four weeks and costs between $225 and $275. Over the years, Pomazi has done copious baby-blue and brown wingtips, but there’s no color he won’t touch, and he’ll even do a camouflage outsole.

“In the beginning,” Pomazi says, “the nucleus of Greenwich Vintage was that we would repair and purvey American goods, whether it was Filson, Pendleton, Red Wing—the older the better.” Pomazi pops a stick of Big Red into his mouth and picks up the story in 2011, pre-sole-making. “We did Northern Grade—huge success. By the second Northern Grade, we had a store in the North Loop, where you’d have to call us up by appointment and we’d come down and key the elevator for you.”

Amid Greenwich’s rise in popularity, Pomazi attended a wedding and decided to don a pair of his late father’s wingtips. “I wore these eel green shoes that he probably paid 800 bucks for back in the day—some English company. An hour into the shoe, sitting there, I’m going, ‘Holy fuck, these are killing me! What can I do to make them more comfortable?’” That’s when he started tinkering with width and sole design. Eventually, he asked Sanchez and Dave Daubert, the owner of Papa’s Shoe Repair II, if a colored sole was possible.

A pair of boots recently resoled at Greenwhich Vintage // Photo by Tj Turner

A pair of boots recently resoled at Greenwhich Vintage // Photo by Tj Turner

Pomazi points to Sanchez. “He and Dave [Daubert] gave me the numbers to a handful of shoe distributors and I called them up.” Pomazi asked companies if they could make colored soles. “‘No colored sole, no colored sole, no colored sole.’ So I called Vibram up in Virginia, and they basically told me to beat it.”

With no other option available, Pomazi started researching and experimenting with making his own soles. By 2013, with the help of a local mold-maker, he had developed a reliable process, and Greenwich entered a new era: he had high demand for a unique product that found its way to boutiques and shoe repair stores all over the country, including MartinPatrick3 in the North Loop.

All around the store, shoes of varied states of repair and disrepair clutter the workshop. “This one,” Pomazi holds up a pair of white Vans high-tops. “I was going to try to do a leather wrap-around with a boot bottom and dip them in indigo. But,” Pomazi shrugs, trailing off. He doesn’t seem too down about it. He never tires of experimentation, and he never tires of bouncing ideas off of Sanchez.

Sanchez, who has a baby face, slick hair, and a neat appearance, sports Red Wings, and a zip-up jacket emblazoned with Papa’s Shoe Repair II. Pomazi, burly-framed, adorned in all black and tattoos from wrist to neck, towers over Sanchez.  If they seem like an odd couple, they are, but spend 10 minutes with them, and their partnership makes perfect sense. The two fall into an easy banter. Sanchez teaches Pomazi Spanish phrases—“Civil? How do you say, ‘Let’s be civil’ in Spanish?”—and performs quick diagnoses for customers dropping off shoes.

They met working for Dave Daubert at Papa’s Shoe Repair I years earlier. When Daubert decided to sell the business in 2009, Sanchez bought it—hence, Papa’s II—and they’ve been working in tandem ever since. Pomazi fronts the customer service and the day-to-day dealings. Sanchez focuses on cobbling and helps Pomazi with conceptual and creative solutions for Greenwich’s colored sole line of boots, chukkas, and wingtips, the latter being Greenwich Vintage’s biggest hit.

Colorful examples of Tamas Pomazi's Greenwich Vintage soles // Photo by Tj Turner

Colorful examples of Tamas Pomazi’s Greenwich Vintage shoes // Photo by Tj Turner

Growing up in New York City and California, Pomazi ran with DIY groups, gleaning a gritty work ethic and headlong ethos to reify the ideas kicking in his head. He still sports a Seventh Letter shirt from his tagging days. A 2007 L.A. Weekly article charts the rise of the Seventh Letter, L.A.’s premier muralists with over 100 members, declaring they “may be the most ambitious, racially diverse and prolific crew ever assembled.”

Pomazi talks often of the old days. He refers to his tagging alias, “Zen One,” as an intimidator, a larger-than-life hardman who evoked fear in all who tried to tried to pick a fight. His brazenness isn’t mere flourish: In the late ‘90s, he started selling drugs and clashed with the law, doing a five-year prison sentence in Florida.

Pomazi is still enamored by graffiti’s pops of color, by tribal-printed coats he spots on passersby, by the pair of baby Yeezys displayed in Papa’s retail section his son once wore.

Pamazi working on a fresh sole with the help of his son // Photo by Tj Turner

Pamazi working on a fresh sole with the help of his son // Photo by Tj Turner

When talking of the future, Pomazi echoes Biggie Smalls: “Bad boys move in silence.” Pomazi and Sanchez’s humble, day-to-day labor speaks to Greenwich’s ethos. Pomazi laments the copious Instagram influencers pining for free products and the ostentatiousness of brand hawkers. He much prefers to “stay in my lane, and keep doing what I’m doing.” In the same breath, he says, “Instagram is huge for us.” They have over 20,000 followers, and the platform allows Pomazi a much wider exposure.

“Make it new,” the old adage goes. That’s Greenwich: products made with special care and attention, but new, zeitgeisty, current, postmodern, advocates of preservation. Coupled with Papa’s, Pomazi and Sanchez revitalize the spirit of shoes—the soul of the sole, if you will.

 

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