Food & Fashion

Coffee shop duo collaborate on a comfortable custom shoe for baristas — or anyone in a stand-up job

Coffee shop duo collaborate on comfortable custom shoe for baristas

David Buehrer John Letoto Blacksmith coffee
David Buehrer and John Letoto know almost as much about fashion as they do about coffee. Photo by Eric Sandler
Yuketen Greenway moc
The Yuketen x Greenway Coffee Sneaker Moc High has been designed with baristas in mind. Courtesy photo
David Buehrer John Letoto Blacksmith coffee
Yuketen Greenway moc

"Made by hands" isn't just a motto at Blacksmith. For co-owner David Buehrer and coffee guy John Letoto, it's a way of life that extends beyond coffee and food to the clothes they wear.

From their General Knot ties to their Hamilton shirts, both Buehrer and Letoto apply as much careful thought to their sartorial choices as they do to delivering perfect latte art to Blacksmith's customers.

Recently, the duo decided to blend their interest in fashion and coffee by collaborating with footwear designer Yuketen on a shoe that's designed specifically for baristas.

Made with 100-percent vegetable tanned leather and featuring both steel shank reinforcements in the arch and heel as well as an all-natural broken cork outsole, the Yuketen x Greenway Coffee Sneaker Moc High has been designed to provide comfort for people who spend up to 15 hours on their feet while developing a patina that should age gracefully over years of use.

Available up to size 13 and triple E width, Buehrer and Letoto are looking to secure at least 30 pre-orders by October 16 before the shoes are put into production. As an added incentive, they're giving away a year's supply of Greenway coffee to the person who posts the best-looking wear photos over a six-month period, as determined by Yuketen, The Class Room and Letoto.

Eager to learn more about the shoe, which costs $375 and is available exclusively for pre-order at The Class Room in Rice Village, CultureMap caught up to Buehrer and Letoto over coffee (naturally) while sitting on Blacksmith's new patio facing Westheimer.

CultureMap: Why are you making this shoe? 

David Buehrer: Because it’s fun is the obvious first answer. But it’s also I think…once you start unearthing all of the creatives . . . there are other people in this world who get a little bit obsessive over what they do. I think I started appreciating that a lot.

John was actually the guy who introduced me to the "Hey, you should watch this video of these old dudes who are all in this warehouse factory in Maine who are hand-stitching shoes and loving it." Which is a company called Quoddy. It’s like, once you watch this video of these guys, you realize it’s not some farmed out factory in Vietnam or whatever.

You realize that they enjoy what they do; there’s a true art and craft to it. There’s a lot of skill that goes into it, and it has longevity in mind. It’s not something that falls apart or breaks down, and if it does, you call them or send them an email, and you send [the shoes] back to them, and they’ll fix them for you.

CM: $375 sounds like a lot of money for shoes. Are there baristas who can afford that?

DB: I think so. Yuketen is a pretty popular brand in the handmade shoe world, and his shoes come with that price tag or higher. In respect to him and his company, we have to brand it and market it as a Yuketen.

For the baristas who don’t think they can afford them, we can work something out with them. But I have to sell some at retail price to a bunch of lawyers first, and then we can go in and hook up the baristas.

But the thing is, I also think this alludes to a bigger concept. Everyone thinks that baristas are poor. That it’s some kind of lower income, lower class job, and that’s not what we’re about. Our staff members make as much as (some) HISD teachers. I think that you make decisions in your life, and some of them involve $300 shoes, and some of them involve $20 T-shirts. 

CM: John, what's your role in all of this? Are you the style director?

John Letoto: Kind of, yeah.

DB: If John approves, then we’re going in the right direction.

JL: I sat down when we went to LA at one thing way back in February. We went to see Yuki, and we talked to him about it . . . Really it was kind of cool because what he did was he just kind of turned the world upside down on our feet.

And he just put shoes on us, and he was like here’s why I do this. He was showing us specific elements of the shoe designs . . . He talked about the curvature of the sole and why they’re curved a specific way.

It was the kind of stuff where you look at it and you go "Yeah, that’s on purpose" so that it changes your posture and forces you to walk a little differently and forces you to stand a little differently.

It’s the kind of stuff that you don’t notice, or if you do notice, you think of it in terms of "Oh that’s weird, or maybe that’s a mistake." But no, it’s very purposeful. So just talking to him we asked, "Hey can we do this, can we do that?" And it was pretty cool to see us get shot down on some things and on other things he was like "OK, that could work."

For a long while now, I’ve worn things for a specific reason. When talking to people and they ask me why I wear what I wear, I say, "You know, I just like clothes with stories." I like the fact that this pair of jeans, for instance, parts of the design are things no one sees what’s there unless I show it to them.

Retail on these was close to $600. Each and every pair was made in Japan, by hand, by a bunch of folks, and it took so long. It was as if they were making a prototype for each and every one. They weren’t production speed — they were prototype speed. They’re crazy. Stuff like that . . . I like that. It’s fun for me. It’s kind of like coffee in that you don’t have to tell someone the story behind the coffee, but you understand that there are people behind it, and you understand that it goes a long way toward the end product.

It’s just one of those things where I kind of know some of the folks, or by extension know some of the folks that made this pair or other pairs. Like, a guy named Roy made one of my favorite pairs of jeans. One guy. Or a guy named Julian made one of my favorite pairs of boots. I dig that kind of thing. Same thing with these. It’s neat that we get to collaborate and choose some of the elements, but it’s not as if we sat there and came up with these elements on our own from scratch. We just sat in their headquarters and pointed at things and were like, '"What about this? What about that? Can we do that?"

DB: I think there’s this weird shift, and it’s from repetitive purchasing at affordable rates, to slowing down the repetition and buying less often but spending a little bit more to get something that lasts longer. Typically when you get into that realm, the sticker shock wears off after you start meeting the people who work on it, and that’s their job, and that’s their livelihood.