Raul Ojeda started his career shining shoes at the Westfield Century City shopping mall, but these days he’s doing more than just getting a pair of Kenneth Coles to sparkle.
Ojeda opened a shoemaking shop last month in a 1,700-square-foot space on La Brea Avenue south of Beverly Boulevard. Don Ville is a workshop where craftsmen hand-make expensive footwear. It includes a retail store that sells ready-to-wear pairs.
It’s an expansion play for Ojeda, who also owns shoe repair shop Willie’s Shoe Service in Hollywood, where celebrity clients include comedian Bill Cosby.
So how did Ojeda, 28, go from being a shoeshine man to a business owner?
“I was invited by a friend to shine shoes and at first I was a little hesitant,” he said. “I was 18 and I didn’t want to be known as the guy who shines shoes. But he explained to me you are working for yourself. It’s a way to be able to do something productive with your life.”
Ojeda left his Century City shoeshine job and started working at Willie’s in 2004. That’s when he learned how to repair and custom-craft shoes. He borrowed from family to buy out original owner Willebaldo Rivera in 2007 for $150,000.
Ojeda was encouraged to open a second store by Julie Newmar – yes, Catwoman – who owns the La Brea building.
“She came to our shop, she saw what we were doing and she liked the idea,” Ojeda said. “She said, ‘I want this shop in my place.’”
But Ojeda needed more than Newmar’s support to open Don Ville. He couldn’t get any banks to believe that a custom-made shoestore could be successful, so he raised the expansion money from friends.
Oh, and the price of his custom shoes? They start at $1,200 for fitted models based on prototypes, and at $2,400 for original designs.
Ojeda, who employs 12 at both of his shops, acknowledges that most people don’t have $2,400 to drop on shoes. But there are people who can’t find what they need among department store offerings.
“It’s an item needed for someone who has such a difficult time finding shoes because they have a narrow heel, superhigh arch,” Ojeda said. “I’m selling a concept for shoes and hoping that people will get the idea of having higher-quality items, whether it’s footwear or clothing.”
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