Few people paid attention to a chef's choice of footwear until Mario Batali started showing up in bright orange Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars a few years back. Now savvy shoe manufacturers are going after the foodservice category with a vengeance. It's good news in a business where sore feet and tired legs are a standard part of the gig.
For decades, most kitchen workers have gone with cheap black sneakers or basic work shoes — the same clunky ones factory workers or bus drivers wear. A few spend a little more to get supportive, high-traction shoes like those sold by longtime industry specialist Shoes For Crews.
Batali's Chuck Taylors were hi-top basketball shoes, not specifically designed for use in commercial kitchens. He's moved on to Crocs since then — the Bistro Mario Batali edition goes for $39.99 — but the list of manufacturers that hope to sell comfortable shoes to restaurant workers is growing.
One new wrinkle: shoes not just endorsed by, but designed by, celebrity chefs. Culinary standouts Marcus Samuelsson, Chris Cosentino and Aaron Sanchez have inked a design deal with Mozo brand shoes. The company's Signature Chef Shoes (retail price: $69.95) are part of its Sharkz line.
So how much do these three guys know about shoe design? We'll find out when the sales numbers roll in. But Mozo is correct in thinking that kitchen workers give plenty of thought to their work shoes. Most newcomers discover the overriding importance of comfortable work shoes three or four hours into their first shift. Wear the wrong ones and your feet and legs will ache all night, and the agony repeats itself if you wear the same shoes to work again the next day.
Which is why part of a new restaurant worker's first paycheck often goes toward a good pair of work shoes. With 12.7 million employees, most of whom are on their feet almost all the time, it's a huge market. No wonder shoe manufacturers with a strong brand have decided to target restaurant staffers.
Mozo — part of the Deckers shoe conglomerate that also makes Uggs and Tevas — already has a modest presence in the culinary market. So does Portland, OR-based Keen. This company got its start in 2003 making sandals that protect toes, and has rapidly expanded into making shoes for a variety of outdoor activities. Now it hopes to expand its restaurant niche.
Keen shoes can be found on the feet of 100-mile endurance runners, Appalachian trail through-hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Keens have already crossed over into the casual shoe market thanks to their distinctive look. Kitchen workers will more likely be attracted by their combination of light weight, support and rugged durability. Like Mozo, these are highly engineered shoes that offer safety, stability and comfort in one package.
These two aren't the only shoe companies in the game. Wares from the others can be found at www.chefshoes.com, although you'll have to go to www.shoesforcrews.com to view that company's lineup.
But don't stop at just good shoes. While you're at it, why not bug your boss about getting new foot-friendly mats for the kitchen? Or maybe get yourself a pair of those compression sleeves marathon runners wear on their legs. Hit on the right combination and your lower body will feel rejuvenated. If you've been working behind the line for a few years, we'll bet your feet and legs will enjoy the effect.