Austin Degenhardt, founder of paul hardt

how it started

“Are you telling your manager what to do?!” That was my manager’s response when I told her to put me behind the bar. She had good reason to be stressed. Our bartender quit just before we opened our doors on what was about to be the busiest Sunday the San Mateo Fish Market had seen in months.

“Hey look…,” I said, “No way. But I think I can do this. I think I can help you.”

Little did I know that this would be a day that changed my life. At first I thought it was going to be huge because I was finally going to get behind the bar...and I hadn’t even been there a year! Anyone who’s been a server has spent more than their fair share of time staring longingly at the bar, just waiting for their chance to chat it up with guests while shaking cocktails.

Near the end of my shift, as luck would have it, one of our servers called in and said he wasn’t coming. Standing there with my manager, the bar in shambles partly from the mad rush and partly from my inexperience, I looked at her and said, “I can stay.” I went right back to waiting tables. My 8 hour “Surprise you’re pouring cocktails!” day had just become a double.

When I walked out that night my pockets were swollen with tips...but my back, knees and feet took a beating. My Shoes for Crews shoes couldn’t keep up with my ambitions. I wanted more. That night, while tending to my poor feet, I began a relentless pursuit for the perfect shoe. In order to meet my demands it had to feel like a running shoe, perform like a work shoe and look like a dress shoe.

After battle testing 8 different brands and 3 different insoles, I had my answer. The shoe I wanted didn’t exist. If I wanted a shoe that was the perfect marriage between support, safety and style I would have to create it. That meant I needed a designer and a shoemaker.

As I walked up to a factory that had been built in 1935, tucked away in the serene Portugal countryside, I had no idea what to expect. I was greeted by a 3rd generation shoemaker in a family owned factory that was about to breathe life into my idea and become the birthplace of Paul Hardt.

What started as a meeting amongst business associates ended with a hug and an embrace as if I was a member of the family. What followed was 2 years of return trips to Portugal along with rigorous product development, design and testing.

Since then, serious service professionals have decided to never settle, and instead pull on a pair of Paul Hardts and step into the career that can only be created by taking care of your personal brand first.

- Austin Degenhardt, CEO

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