This story appears in the September edition of Ottawa Magazine, on newsstands now. Click here to subscribe to the print or digital versions.
By Matt Harrison
As co-owner of The Black Tomato, you must be pretty busy. Why do you also sell shoes?
I really like [owners] Andre Schad and Chantal Biro-Schad, and when they opened Wolf & Zed, I wanted to help out. So I said to them: “I’ve got this crazy idea. I’d like to work on Saturday afternoons, and I’ll work strictly for shoes. You don’t have to pay me.” They thought it was a great idea — and why wouldn’t they? I don’t technically cost them anything. Instead, I get a discount on shoes.
Is there a particular brand or type of shoe that you love?
They sell a brand that my wife and I have been collecting, called CYDWOQ. It’s a California company started by a retired architect. The leather shoes are done in a cobbler style, with old-fashioned touches such as button-hooks. They’re immensely comfortable and very iconic. And they’re reasonably priced, for handmade shoes. There’s nothing else like them.
Is the shoe discount the sole reason for your gig at Wolf & Zed? Why not just buy them full price?
It does save me money, and to be perfectly honest, as a small business owner, I’m never really rolling in cash. And I thought that when it comes to higher-end footwear, some customers might want to buy from someone who’s a little older, who’s going to take more time.
How many pairs have you taken home?
Thirty pairs. It’s come to the point where, when a new pair of shoes comes into the house, something has to go.
What do you do with your old shoes?
Mostly I give them away. What size are your feet?
Is there a point where you might retire from selling shoes?
I don’t think so, because it’s not just functionality — it’s art.
The Stephen Flood Appreciation Society on Facebook calls you a “man about town.” Is that how you see yourself?
Someone once told me a story about a dishwasher who would come to work wearing a beautiful three-piece suit and change into his dishwashing clothes. He also worked at another restaurant less than a block away. When his shift was done, he would change out of his dishwashing clothes back into his suit, walk three doors down, and change again. My friend couldn’t understand this, but I could — he thought of that block as his runway. I think that’s admirable. Some people might think he was being frivolous, but he just wanted to be perceived as someone willing to put in the effort to look beautiful. I aspire to the same.
You always seem to be involved with the arts. What’s your next project?
A friend [Jennifer Look-Hong] and I are making one-of-a-kind bags — mostly men’s bags — out of animal hides. It’s called Her & Him, and we’ll probably sell them at Wolf & Zed.